Monday, January 21, 2013
The Llama of Death by Betty Webb
Theodora "Teddy" Bentley, a zookeeper at the Gunn Zoo in California, is tending Alejandro, a llama, at the Gunn Landing Renaissance Faire. Alejandro's appearances with children raise money for the zoo, and Teddy is his caretaker because Aster Edwina, the wealthy ruler of the Gunn Trust, the Gunn Zoo, and other properties, bullied her into doing it. Teddy, whose father embezzled money and fled to Costa Rica, leaving his wife, Caro, and daughter to fend for themselves, was easily bullied. But, Caro, whose beauty brought her a number of ex-husbands, was not so easily bullied. And, she snapped when the Reverend Victor Emerson, playing Henry VIII, picked a younger woman to portray Anne Boleyn at the faire. Caro wasn't happy to be a lady-in-waiting.
When Alejandro found the body of the reverend, Teddy was too busy tending to his needs to realize her mother would be a natural suspect in the reverend's murder. And, with Teddy's fiance, Sheriff Joe Rojas, in Virginia at a Homeland Security refresher course, it falls to an incompetent deputy, Elvin Dade to mess up the crime scene and take the lead on the investigation. Once humiliated by Caro, it doesn't take long before he arrests her, accusing her of killing Emerson.
Despite repeated calls to Joe, Teddy can't get through to him, so she decides she has to investigate, find the killer, and get her mother out of jail. It doesn't help that her father, a fugitive from the law, shows up to try to help his beloved ex-wife. At times, Teddy comes across as the only mature figure in the book, as she searches for a killer, while juggling the childish behavior of her parents. Her father refuses to stay hidden, and her mother faces thirty days in jail for stirring up trouble.
Betty Webb's Gunn Zoo stories are always intriguing mysteries. However, it's the characters and the animals that stand out in her books. Webb skillfully introduces information about zoo animals; llamas, honeybadgers, Mojave rattlesnakes, lemurs. The information is fascinating, and she blends it beautifully into the plot of the book. Teddy's daily job, as well as her television segment, provide opportunities for animal background. Those animals are vividly described, and they become important characters, just as the humans in the books do.
And, the humans in Webb's mysteries are fascinating. So many of them have secrets. Teddy Bentley, the daughter of a fugitive, is not only good at keeping secrets. She's good at uncovering them. With Joe gone, she has to rely on her own knowledge and skills to uncover a killer. When she does, her life is once again endangered at her favorite spot, the Gunn Zoo.
If you like zoo animals, eccentric characters, humor in mysteries, and a solid plot, you'll want to pick up The Llama of Death by Betty Webb. It's another success from a master of the comic mystery.
Betty Webb's website is www.bettywebb-zoomystery.com
The Llama of Death by Betty Webb. Poisoned Pen Press. 2013. ISBN 9781464200663 (hardcover), 257p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The author gave me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.