THE OTTER OF DEATH by Betty Webb is part cozy mystery and part thriller, with portions delving into the very relevant issue of sexual harassment.  This story combines current issues with information about zoo animals including some light amusing scenes that make for an interesting read.

The plot has the main character, zookeeper Teddy Bentley contemplating her life changes that will happen once she marries Sheriff Rejas. Her thoughts are interrupted when she spots an otter swimming with a smart phone.  After taking the device she discovers a photograph of a murder-in-progress. Rumors swirl that the victim, Stuart Booth, PhD, a local Marine Biology instructor, is a notorious sexual harasser of young female students.  Teddy decides to become an amateur sleuth putting her own life at risk as the investigation progresses to find the killer.

Elise Cooper:  How did you get the idea for this “Gunn Zoo” series?

Betty Webb:  I was a journalist for twenty years. After I retired I did not know what to do with my time. Having grown up on a farm with a love for animals I decided to volunteer at the Phoenix zoo.  One day I was watching this giant anteater, Lucy, playing with her pup, and said to another volunteer ‘I am surprised no one has written anything about these animals.’  She looked at me and said, ‘I thought you were a writer.’  Right then the idea for my first zoo book was born. I knew I would make it into a series.

EC:  The cover of the otter with the cell phone is very cute?

BW:  It is actually based on a true story.  When I was in this little town, which is what I based Gunn Landing on, I was told to be careful with the otters. If I drop something they will grab it.  In fact, I saw this otter swimming around with a small video camera.  This image was stuck in my mind, but I changed the camera to a smart phone.

EC:  Boats play a significant role in these stories?

BW:  We have a close friend who owns a boat in Santa Barbara, which is the basis for the boat in this story.  After spending a couple of summers on it I realized there are many difficulties in owning one.  Everything develops mold so it is not as romantic as most people make it out to be.

EC:  Because you delve into the topic of abuse the genre would not be considered a cozy mystery?

BW:  I wanted to write something that could tie everything together.  When I was in college I heard about this situation of sexual harassment from a friend of mine.  Those picked upon are usually a little withdrawn because they are easy victims.  I never experienced it personally since I was raised on a farm. What all farm girls have in common is that we are very quick to defend ourselves. After the Weinstein issue became public, I thought how this book is appropriate to the times.

EC:  You refer to the bald eagle in your book?

BW:  I based it on the two bald eagles in the Phoenix zoo.  One hurt by a car; a zoo visitor hurt the other one.  It was in a cage, recuperating from a broken wing, and they shook its cage.  It caused the eagle to break its beak.  Unfortunately, there are not a lot of laws that protect zoo animals and wildlife.  For example, a tiger attacked two boys, after they kept slinging rocks at it.  Unbelievable that one of the boys got a $50,000 settlement from the zoo for the fright suffered.  There was another time when a little boy got away from his mom and went into the gorilla enclosure. The guards were afraid for the boy’s safety so they shot the gorilla.  I wrote something similar in this book but with an overall happy ending and the vicious animal was changed to a swan.

EC: Please describe Teddy?

BW:  I based her on a younger version of myself. She is very independent, forms strong bonds, and loves animals. We both had to deal with our parents’ grief.  I centered it around my parents actions and multiplied it by seven times. My mother was a Beauty Queen, quite the clotheshorse, and was married seven times. The difference is that Teddy’s mom is protective of her and my mom was not.  Because I wished my mom was more protective, I made Teddy’s mom that way.

EC:  Do you have a favorite zoo animal?

BW: Lucy the anteater.

EC:  What do you want readers to get out of it?

BW:  I wanted to show that a lot of things that harm animals are not done on purpose.  In this book, I wrote about the Feral Cat and how their urine has this parasite that kills otters.  Then there is the flushable kitty litter, which empties out into the ocean that kills sea life. Wildlife has problems due to the interference of human beings; even though sometimes it is not on purpose.  Something that seems harmless to us is actually fatal to animals as they come in contact with it.  I try to bring out examples of how we harm wildlife without ever meaning too.

EC:  Can you give a heads up about your next books?

BW:  There will be a Lena Jones book, the final one in the series.  I will be writing a new series about the art scene in Paris.  I thought this book would be the final one in the zoo series.  But was told that I need to keep writing more books, so I will probably continue to write this series.


The Otter of Death (Gunn Zoo Book 5)

Betty Webb

Poisoned Pen Press

May 2, 2018