Skip to main content

The Panda of Death: A Gunn Zoo Mystery


The Panda of Death: A Gunn Zoo Mystery

Hunkered down in my home doing what I enjoy most --- reading mysteries --- I just finished Betty Webb’s new book. A retired reporter for the Arizona Republic who distinguished herself covering polygamist cults in southern Utah, Webb has written a number of novels about abused women and children. In 2008, she changed course after volunteering at the Phoenix Zoo and turned to a lighter topic: zookeeping.

Inspired by her experiences, Webb has created this series featuring Theodora “Teddy” Bentley, a young woman who works as a zookeeper at the fictional Gunn Zoo in the Bay Area of California. The zoo specializes in the rescue of rare and endangered species. The overarching storyline is that Teddy, who is married to Sheriff Joe Rejas, often becomes involved when humans who may have a connection to the zoo die under suspicious circumstances.

"[A]s the story swiftly moved forward, I became so fascinated by this righteous heroine and caught up in the tangle of improbable events that I whisked through the pages with a smile."

Webb, who always is looking to broaden her research, recently learned that she has a half-brother thanks to DNA testing. Voila! A great plot line developed in THE PANDA OF DEATH, the sixth installment of this series. When Teddy’s husband discovers that he has a younger brother fathered during a high school fling, the handsome man, Dylan Coyle, turns up unexpectedly and is abruptly arrested for murder. It hits close to home for Teddy and her husband, especially when Teddy herself becomes a suspect.

The dead man, Cliff Flaherty, was a writer for “Tippy-Toe & Tinker,” a well-known local children’s show featuring animal puppets, the most popular of which is based on a newly arrived red panda, Poonya. A squabble arose between Flaherty and the puppeteers about a new storyline for the program involving the actress who operates the panda puppet. The suddenly late writer seemed to have very few friends, not the least of whom was Teddy, Poonya’s caretaker. And guess where his body was found? Next to Teddy’s houseboat. With Teddy (who, may I remind you, is the sheriff’s wife) and Dylan, the suspects pile up and the plot thickens.

There are a lot of players in THE PANDA OF DEATH, and initially I had a heck of a time keeping track of everyone. However, as the story swiftly moved forward, I became so fascinated by this righteous heroine and caught up in the tangle of improbable events that I whisked through the pages with a smile.

I noted that Webb has that gold nugget of a backlist of five Gunn Zoo mysteries, so I did what any responsible reviewer would do: I downloaded the first book (THE ANTEATER OF DEATH) to become acquainted with the hilarious characters and entangled relationships of Teddy’s family. Who is this determined young woman who is descended from among the wealthiest families of the coastal community? And why would she choose to keep her battered old converted houseboat and live with her one-legged rescue dog and one-eyed cat? I mean, what’s not to love about this character? In minutes, I had THE ANTEATER OF DEATH on my Kindle.

Now that I’m sequestered during this pandemic, I will entertain myself by exploring backlists of other favorites on my e-reader. Oh, and since my husband shares my taste in books, it’s a good thing we have two of those handy little gadgets.

I also have read LESS THAN A MOMENT by Steven F. Havill, another new author to me who writes along the lines of C. J. Box and Craig Johnson, with a huge backlist and an avid following. Another gold nugget! What a great way to spend time in seclusion --- meeting new friends while staying safe and in touch with old ones.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on March 20, 2020

The Panda of Death: A Gunn Zoo Mystery
by Betty Webb

  • Publication Date: March 3, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
  • ISBN-10: 1492699144
  • ISBN-13: 9781492699149