“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.
Retiring after 20 years as a journalist, Webb 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.”
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 smartphone. After taking the device she discovers a photograph of a murder-in-progress. Rumors swirl that the victim, Stuart Booth, Ph.D., 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.
Although the story was written before the #MeToo movement, it is more relevant today than ever. “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 Those picked upon are usually a little withdrawn because they are easy victims.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.”
Readers also learn about the different zoo animals and the dangers to them. Webb noted, “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 in 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 it comes in contact with. I try to bring out examples of how we harm wildlife without ever meaning too.”
Readers are lucky enough to get more than just a riveting mystery. Webb has a winning combination with rich characters, animal knowledge, within a fantastic story.