California zookeeper Theodora Bentley travels to Iceland to pick up an orphaned polar bear cub destined for the Gunn Zoo's newly installed Northern Climes exhibit. The trip is intended to be a combination of work and play.
But on day two, while horseback riding near a picturesque seaside village, Teddy discovers a man lying atop a puffin burrow, shot through the head. The victim is identified as American birdwatcher Simon Parr, winner of the largest Powerball payout in history. Is Teddy a witness - or a suspect? Others include not only Parr's wife, a famed suspense novelist, but fellow members of the birding club Parr had generously treated to their lavish Icelandic expedition. Hardly your average birders, several of them have had serious brushes with the law back in the States.
Guessing that an American would best understand other Americans, police detective Thorvaald Haraldsson grudgingly concedes her innocence and allows Teddy to tag along with the group to volcanoes, glaciers, and deep continental rifts in quest of rare bird species. But once another member of the club is murdered and a rockfall barely misses Teddy's head, Haraldsson forbids her to continue. She ignores him and, in a stunning, solitary face-off with the killer in Iceland's wild interior, concludes an investigation at once exotic, thrilling, and rich in animal lore.
About the Author
As a journalist, Betty Webb interviewed U.S. presidents, astronauts, and Nobel Prize winners, as well as the homeless, dying, and polygamy runaways. The dark Lena Jones mysteries are based on stories she covered as a reporter. Betty's humorous Gunn Zoo series debuted with the critically acclaimed The Anteater of Death , followed by The Koala of Death. A book reviewer at Mystery Scene Magazine , Betty is a member of National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, and the National Organization of Zoo Keepers. www.bettywebb-zoomystery.com
Read an Excerpt
The Puffin of Death
A Gunn Zoo Mystery
By Betty Webb
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2015 Betty Webb
All rights reserved.
Gunn Landing, California: Four days earlier
When Zorah radioed me that Aster Edwina wanted to see me in the zoo office immediately, I was knee-deep in giraffe droppings. Not that I minded, since that's my job. Most people think being a zookeeper is glamorous work, but the truth is that seventy-five percent of my time is spent shoveling a pile of fecal matter from one place to another. The animals enjoy watching, though.
Being summoned by Aster Edwina Gunn, head of the Gunn Zoo Trust, seldom meant good news, so it was with a certain amount of reluctance that I put my poop-scooping duties aside, climbed the long hill from African Trail, took the long way around Tropics Trail, then cut in front of the new Northern Climes exhibit and joined the crowd by the penguin enclosure. Anything to put off the inevitable. Rory, one of the Emperor penguins, was in the midst of another altercation with Ebenezer, a crested northern rockhopper. The two didn't like each other much, but this was the first time I'd seen them actually go at it. The smaller Ebenezer pecked Rory on the chest. Rory squawked and bopped Ebenezer on the head. Ebenezer bopped back.
I was thinking about breaking it up when my radio hissed at me again. "Keeper Number Four," I answered. "Over."
"Leave those penguins alone and get your butt in here, Teddy," Zora snapped.
"What makes you think I'm watching the penguins?"
"Because that's all you've done since they arrived."
Got me there. It would take a more jaded zookeeper not to be fascinated by the little cuties. They were so people-like. Yet so not.
"Well, Zorah, I'm ..."
"Theodora Esmeralda Iona Bentley, do I have to tell you again?"
"Oh, all right," I grumbled. "I'll be there in a minute. But stop calling me by my full name. You know I hate it."
"And I hate being the go-between you and Aster Edwina. She's on a tear today, so make it half a minute. Zoo One, over and out."
While I was clipping the radio back onto my belt, Ebenezer's and Rory's spat morphed into a full-tilt brawl, and the two penguins tumbled butt-over-flipper until they fell off their rocky slope and splashed into the pool. Avian tempers duly doused, they swam to opposite sides of the pool, where they reduced their former physicality to mere glares.
Action over, the crowd left. So did I.
"Well, hi, Aster Edwina," I said, walking into the Administration Building. "What brings you here on this sunny California morning?"
The owner of the Gunn Zoo had to be well into her eighties by now, but age hadn't dimmed her. Hints of her former beauty remained on her face, and her spine was still as straight as a West Point graduate's. Age hadn't tempered her irascibility, either. Glancing at her watch, she said, "It does not take eight minutes to walk from African Trail to Admin."
"It's hot today, so I was reserving my strength. It's August. Happens every year. Plus I'm pulling a double shift, and I ..."
"No, you're not."
"That comes as a surprise to me," I said, "especially since you're the one who arranged it."
Keisha, one of the Gunn Zoo's most popular bonobo apes, was about to give birth, and Aster Edwina had ordered that she be observed around the clock. Due to so many keepers on vacation or ill, Zorah, the zoo's director, had pulled a double shift herself the day before yesterday, which meant that today was my turn.
Aster Edwina inclined her regal head. "Zorah has already made arrangements. You're needed elsewhere."
"And that would be?" With Lucy, the giant anteater, who was also about to give birth? Or Wanchu, the koala, whose joey should be emerging from her pouch any day?
Aster Edwina mumbled something I was certain I hadn't heard correctly. "Pardon? Could you repeat that? Where did you say I'm needed?"
"Iceland!" she snapped.
I laughed. "Honestly, I really have to get my hearing checked, because I'd swear you said Iceland."
"You're leaving tomorrow. Zorah's already made the arrangements."
Zorah wouldn't meet my eyes, which meant it was probably true, and she felt guilty about it.
"Iceland? Tomorrow? You can't be serious."
"I am perfectly serious, Theodora. As you know, Jack Spense, our bear man, irresponsibly broke his leg surfing Sunday — com- pound fracture, I hear — and his doctor won't clear him to fly. You are the only person left on staff whose passport is up-to-date."
At last an out. I began a lie. "But it's not up ...
She headed me off at the pass. "Don't bother telling me it's not, Theodora, because I am quite well aware you were in Costa Rica last month, visiting your runaway father. By the way, you should have gotten my permission before you flew off so cavalierly." Here, a harsh stare at Zorah, who had enough sense to keep quiet. "As I was saying before you tried to pull the wool over my eyes, you'll be taking an Alaska Airlines flight out of San Francisco to Seattle at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow, spend the night there, and the next day you'll board the 10 a.m. Icelandic Air flight which lands, weather willing, at Keflavik Airport sometime early Wednesday. We've already arranged for a car to pick you up, and you'll be sharing lodging with one of the Reykjavik Zoo people. The transfer paperwork will take around six days, I hear, because Icelanders move slowly in these matters." She sniffed. "No sense of urgency, those people. Pack for weather."
Icelandic weather. A vision of glaciers and blizzards rose up in front of me. I'm California born and bred, and the thought of spending six days in freezing temps filled me with horror. "Six days? But, Aster ..."
"Yes, yes, I know you're worried about that adorable little bonobo, what's her name, yes, Keisha, as well you should, but Zorah and I have already taken care of that staffing problem, and I assure you that everything will be fine."
"But my own pets ..."
"I took the liberty of calling your mother, and she agreed to take in your animals, so you see there's no problem, no problem at all." She gave me a beneficent smile, Lady of the Manor to Obedient Serf. "I've even given you several days off with pay so you can see the sights. They say Iceland is a major tourist attraction these days."
"But ... But why are you sending me to Iceland?" I hated the plaintive tone in my voice, but couldn't seem to stop.
With a look of satisfaction, she said, "To pick up a polar bear, of course."
Grinding my teeth, I drove home to Gunn Landing Harbor to pack. I'm normally an even-tempered person, but the fact that Aster Edwina felt she could disrupt my life any time she wanted enraged me. Still, if I wanted to keep my job, and I did, there was no way around it. The lush green California hills rolled by quickly, and twenty minutes later I arrived at the harbor. Due to severe zoning restrictions imposed by the California Coastal Initiative, the tiny village of Gunn Landing, population five hundred, has no apartment buildings and no rentals other than three already-taken fishermen's cottages. Most of the village's inhabitants, several zookeepers among them, live on boats. Mine is the Merilee, a refitted 1979 thirty-four-foot CHB trawler, berthed at Slip No. 34.
I do not live alone. My usual bunkmates are DJ Bonz, a three-legged terrier, and Miss Priss, a one-eyed Persian, both rescued from the same pound. We are sometimes joined by Toby, the unfaithful half-Siamese who adopted me after his previous owner was murdered. Yes, I use the word "unfaithful" advisedly. Neutering hadn't changed Toby's roaming tendencies, and after spending a week or two with me, he always moved on down the dock to whatever boat took his fancy at the time. Right now he was with us again, which presented a problem.
Should I take him to Mother's with the rest of my menagerie?
I realized the problem had already been solved the moment I walked down the dock toward my Merilee and saw Cathie Kindler relaxing on the deck of the S'Moose Sailing, her refurbished houseboat. In her arms she held Toby, who was licking her ear and pretending he would never love anyone else, the little liar.
"Look who moved in with me," Cathie called, over the noise of a Chris-Craft speeding out of the channel toward the Pacific. She was one of those women who could never say no to a homeless cat. "He spent last week on Deborah Holt's Flotsam, but I guess they had a spat because here he is."
"Did you feed him?"
"Just a smidge. Part of a salmon steak."
I had to smile. "You'll regret that, because he'll expect it every day now."
Briefly, because I could hear my other animals crying out for me, I told her my situation and asked her to look after Toby while I was gone.
"Of course. But Iceland! Hope you've got a parka. Don't they have volcanoes? Maybe you should take an umbrella, too, what with all that fire and ash falling from the sky." With that encouragement, Cathie disappeared into S'Moose's galley to spoil Toby with more salmon.
I'd forgotten about the Icelandic volcanoes. It would be my rotten luck that one of the things would erupt while I was there, and all the flights would be grounded for a week or two, leaving me to babysit a polar bear on an ice floe where I'd end up as dinner.
Muttering to myself, I opened the hatch and entered the Merilee.
Miss Priss wanted food. DJ Bonz wanted walkies, then food. After I gave them both what they wanted, I began to pack.CHAPTER 2
Keflavik, Iceland: Three days later
I stood outside Iceland's Keflavik International Airport, bundled in three layers of clothing topped by a Slimfit N-3B parka guaranteed to keep me warm at thirty degrees below zero.
Unfortunately, it was sixty-five degrees above zero in Keflavik. The sun was shining and volcanic ash appeared nowhere in evidence. When Bryndis Sigurdsdottir pulled up to the curb in her blue Volvo, I had shed the parka myself and was about to strip to my undies.
"Why's it so hot?" I asked Bryndis, after stowing my luggage in the trunk.
"Well, it is August, Teddy," she replied. The blond Reykjavik zookeeper had to be six feet tall if she was an inch, and was wearing shorts and a tank top. I guess if you're used to sub-zero weather, sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit seems broiling.
"I hear you had an interesting flight," she continued, as she pulled away from the Arrivals zone. "Some sort of ruckus that almost got you diverted to Manitoba." Bryndis' command not only of the English language, even its colloquialisms, didn't surprise me since before leaving California I'd been assured that all Icelanders spoke fluent English.
"Ruckus would be the right word. Some drunk guy sporting Elvis Presley sideburns started a brawl in First Class. He was with a group from Phoenix."
Bryndis nodded knowingly. "Ah, yes. Phoenix, in Arizona. Where the cowboys ride the range. They are wild men, correct? Rugged. Handsome."
"Drunk Elvis wasn't ugly but he was sure no cowboy. From what I heard, he was a birder on his way here with a group of other birders to study vagrants. You know, non-native birds that for one reason or another, show up in countries where they're not usually found. They're ..."
I stopped myself in mid-explanation. Bryndis, a zookeeper herself, would know what a "vagrant" was in birder parlance. "Anyway, from what I could hear, the drunk guy started an argument with another birder about hoopoes, those yellow and black Egyptian birds, claiming one had been seen in some place called Vik. When another birder said that was impossible, Drunk Elvis called him a dumb piece of, ah, offal. He got loud enough that the flight steward booted him from First Class to the back of the plane with the rest of us peons."
Bryndis nodded. "But the drunk man was correct. In 2006, a hoopoe showed up at a farm near Vik, probably blown in by a storm. A male, bright yellow plumage. He made our own birders very happy for two days, then disappeared."
"Still, not worth making a scene over."
Bryndis laughed. "You must not know many birders. They can be quite vicious. Especially the Icelandic ones."
For the rest of the drive into Reykjavik, Iceland's largest city, she regaled me with stories about Icelandic birders coming to blows over waxwings and warblers. "But they always make up over drinks afterwards," she finished, as she drove through landscape so weird it looked downright alien. Miles and miles of harsh black rock stretched toward distant, glacier-capped mountains. The rocks were only rarely softened by patches of startlingly green moss; the mountains — volcanoes, actually — looked set to blow at any moment, and they gave me the shivers.
Bryndis noticed me staring out the window. "How do you like the scenery?"
My polite lie elicited a laugh. "Not to worry, this is a centuries-old lava field. After I introduce you to Magnus I will show you downtown Reykjavik, then tomorrow morning we will go riding along the coastline at Vik, a beautiful place that will look more pleasing to you than this. You do ride, yes?"
"Ride? Certainly. And is Magnus, your, um, boyfriend?"
"Yes, and your new one. We Icelanders believe in sharing."
My reaction got another laugh. "Magnus is your new polar bear, Teddy. In Icelandic, 'magnus' means very big. Great, actually. We will swing by my apartment first to unload your luggage, then go over to the zoo first for a quick introduction. You will enjoy a nice walk around there after sitting so long on the plane, will you not?"
Sounded good to me, so I nodded. "Uh, does your car have air-conditioning?" I asked, as another rivulet of perspiration rolled down my face. I was still in three layers of clothing.
She gave me a sympathetic look. "Not needed in Iceland. But tell you what. You can change into cooler clothing when we stop by my apartment."
I liked her already. A good thing, too, since I'd be bunking with her for a week while learning the ins and outs of polar bear care.
Bryndis' apartment, mere blocks from the Reykjavik city center, was quite small. A tiny kitchen, a tiny bathroom, a tiny living room that doubled as an office, and a bedroom with barely enough space for twin beds. Although completely furnished by Ikea, large posters of animals personalized the walls. The rooms were themed, too. The posters in the bedroom displayed mountain gorillas and orangutans. The living room — lions, tigers, leopards, and cheetahs. The kitchen — puffins and whooper swans.
I felt right at home.
The only oddity I found was in the bathroom, where I went to change clothes. Over the toilet hung a big concert poster of a female music group named Valkyrie. Underneath the lead singer, who strongly resembled Bryndis, ran a sentence in Icelandic that said, "Vid syngja af daudum."
Long underwear duly removed and outer clothes back on, I exited the bathroom to find Bryndis waiting for me in the kitchen with a tall glass of iced tea. After gratefully downing it, I asked, "Is that you or a twin in the bathroom poster?"
"It is me, all right. Valkyrie plays all over Reykjavik, sometimes as many as three gigs a week. Is that the right word, gigs?"
"Yep. But how can you handle that kind of schedule? I'm a zookeeper myself and know what a rugged job it is. And from what I hear, being in a rock group is rough stuff, too."
She shrugged. "Icelanders like to be busy, so we all do many things. In fact, there is a joke we like to tell on ourselves. Besides our full-time jobs, two out of four of us are in a band, one is writing a book, and the other works in the movies. Someone is always making a movie here. In fact, two different companies — one of them American — start filming here in a few days. Ragnar, a friend of mine, is going to be an extra in the American one." Considering the bleak scenery I'd seen since leaving the airport, I guessed both movies were horror films. But not wanting to insult her country, I said, "What does that sentence mean, 'Vid syngja af daudum?' From the expression on your face, I pronounced it wrong."
She laughed. "No problem. Non-Icelanders have a terrible time with Old Norse, which is what we speak. Anyway, the sentence means, 'We sing of the dead.'"
"Cheerful." Yep. Horror movies.
Unaware of my thoughts, she flashed strong white teeth. "Icelandic music can be dark, but you will find that we ourselves are usually of a cheerful disposition. Now I have a question for you. Is it true you live on a boat?"
Excerpted from The Puffin of Death by Betty Webb. Copyright © 2015 Betty Webb. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
THE PUFFIN OF DEATH by Betty Webb is Book 4 of the Gunn Zoo Mystery series. Teddy is sent to Reykjavik, Iceland by the head of the Gunn Zoo Trust, Aster Edwina. Teddy is picking up and learning to care for Magnus, an orphaned polar bear cub, a pair of injured puffins and a pair of Icelandic foxes. Of course, she becomes involved in a murder investigation shortly after she arrives. The plot was good and I liked the Icelandic characters far better than the shallow, self-absorbed American ones. The cover picture is great - a beautiful puffin. There is a list of characters - Icelandic and Americans; a cast of Icelandic animals and a helpful, interesting section - Icelandic for beginners. I am quite fond of puffins and enjoyed all the details about their habitats and lifestyle. There were many interesting details of animal care concerning polar bears and foxes which I enjoyed, too. There were earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, movie sets with fighting Vikings, Ninjas and Visigoths, a Viking girl band, interesting drinks and foods and of course, several murders. I am ready to pack my bags and go!
This is the fourth book in the Gunn Zoo Mystery series but the first one I have read. I very much enjoyed it and will go back and look for the rest of them. This edition takes place in Iceland and included detailed descriptions of Icelandic locations, people and culture. I enjoyed learning about the country and it's culture while reading this cozy mystery. Teddy (Theodora) is a zoo keeper who is engaged to a police officer at home. She has gotten involved in mystery and death prior to this book. The owner of the zoo where she works sends her off to Iceland to collect some animals (polar bear, arctic foxed and a pair of puffins) for her zoo. She heads off with the zoo credit card and decides to make the best of the situation and have a bit of a vacation. This does not work out the way she plans. On the first night there, she witnesses an altercation between an icelander (Ragnar) and a millionaire birder from Arizona who recently won the lottery. The next morning, she stumbles upon the body of said millionaire, Simon Parr. When Ragnar gets arrested for the crime, she gets drawn into the investigation to help her friend Bryndis, Ragnar's ex-girlfriend. While investigating she gets drawn into the lives of the Germonimo Birding Group that was travelling with Simon. Several of the members are suspect, have a reason to want Simon dead and act strangely. It is all very intriguing. I had my suspicions of the murderer along the way, but was not sure until the very end. That always makes a mystery more enjoyable for me. I found this book to be well written, have many interesting characters, especially Teddy, as well as being set in a unique location. I learned a lot about Iceland and when I asked my daughter about some of the information (she has been to Iceland) it was accurate. Obviously well researched. I would certainly recommend this book to those who like cozy mysteries as well as those who like to read about exotic or different locales. Thanks to Poised Pen Press and Netgalley for my copy of this book in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
Theodora Bentley, zoo keeper from California, heads to Iceland to pick up a baby polar bear, that was acquired by the zoo. She also manages to involve herself in not 1, but 2 murders. Our Teddy, being cut from the same cloth as many of our other heroes, decides that her investigate experience is needed. But, when a rockfall barely misses Teddy, she is forbidden by Police Detective Haraldsson to delve any deeper into the murders. But we all know how well heroes listen to the police. Although this is the 3rd book in Betty's Gunn Zoo mysteries, it is the 1st one I have read. If you love zoos, and who doesn't, you'll love this series. FTC Full Disclosure - A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review. (less)