Book review: The Puffin of Death by Betty Webb

Note: I read an ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for a review. The publication date of the book is set for November 3, 2015.

The Puffin of Death: A Gunn Zoo Mystery
by Betty Webb
Poisoned Pen Press

I was delighted to come across The Puffin of Death, the 4th in a series starring Theodora (Teddy) Bentley, a zookeeper from California. I previously read several of the books in Webb’s other (darker, more serious) Lena Jones mysteries and enjoyed them quite a bit, so finding out that she was now writing a lighter, cozier series was a pleasant surprise.

The Puffin of Death follows Teddy’s adventures when she travels to Iceland to pick up a polar bear cub, a pair of puffins, and a couple of Arctic foxes for the new exhibit opening at the zoo she works at. Within a short while of her arrival, she comes across a dead body (of course) and is drawn into the investigation of American birdwatcher (and lottery winner) Simon Parr. Parr was part of a group of birdwatchers and it is within this group that the suspects to his murder reside.

Teddy, accompanied by her Icelandic counterpart, Bryndis, and other locals she meets, increasingly involves herself in the police investigation, led by Thorvaald Haraldsson, and her own questioning of suspects.

The story unfolds pretty much how you would expect to (which is not a bad thing). Teddy alternates her time between the zoo (and bottle feeding the baby polar bear), enjoying Iceland with her friends, and hanging with the birdwatchers while trying to determine the murderer.

Obviously, I was jumping into an established series, but I really liked the protagonist, Teddy. She is intelligent, she is in a seemingly stable relationship, and she doesn’t do particularly stupid things (which is refreshing after some of the cozies I have recently read).

The climax, which follows a second suspicious death, is appropriately dramatic, not excessively unlikely, and nicely Iceland-specific. The identity of the murderer is not completely surprising, but satisfying nonetheless.

If there is a weakness to the book, it is in how large chunks of the backstory and investigation results are imparted to the reader.

This is always a challenge in mysteries, I think, especially when a story is told in the first person and the main character is an amateur — how do they find  information? do they get it directly from suspects? why would the suspects talk to them? The questions are many and how these are navigated by authors goes a lot way towards creating mysteries that are plausible enough to keep readers going. There is always a need to suspend disbelief somewhat in a mystery novel (even those that are highly realistic cannot be completely so), but it is for the best if an author can avoid the worst of unlikely scenarios or awkward information dumps.

All of which brings us to the rather unfortunate (and fairly unlikely) way in which Teddy gathers a great deal of information — a conveniently located old school friend that she phones provides an also convenient amount of background information on the various suspects and further details come from her fiance back home.

I do completely appreciate the difficulty in figuring out how the main character might find such information, particularly when they are not near the suspects’ usual location and googling things is a bit boring from a plot point of view. And Teddy does talk to the suspects, she does not solely rely on these information dumps. It’s not the worst thing and does not take away hugely from the story.

The previous was my only ‘problem’ with the book (and it is a problem I struggle with regarding this genre far more than with any specific title).

Overall, I really enjoyed this book, which was a pleasant read with engaging characters. The story was solid and the mystery aspect nicely realized. I plan on going back to read the earlier books in the series, as well as catching up on Webb’s other series.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s