The Panda of Death: Gunn Zoo Mystery By Betty Webb: Review/Giveaway/Interview

Mar 28, 2020 | 2020 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Sandra Murphy

by Sandra Murphy

This week we have a review of the latest Gunn Zoo Mystery by Betty Webb along with an interesting interview with Betty. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win an ebook copy of The Panda of Death, and links to purchase it.

The Panda of Death: Gunn Zoo Mystery by Betty Webb
Review by Sandra Murphy

Teddy Bentley is a zookeeper at the Gunn Zoo in California. Each day she gets to feed and interact with the animals, especially the newest addition, Poonya, a red panda. What could be a better job? Well, a great job except when the sloth pooped on her uniform, and then there was the incident with the third graders and…Well, no job is perfect.

Teddy is married to Sheriff Joe Rejas and stepmom to his two kids. His mother, Colleen, has a granny cottage out back. She’s a mystery writer who is acting awfully mysterious lately. Teddy is shocked to find a young man who obviously has been staying with Colleen. She’s stunned to hear he’s Joe’s eighteen year old son, Dylan—and it’s the first Joe’s hearing about him.

Dylan no more than arrives when he is arrested for murder. From there things just get more convoluted. His mother shows up, then his stepdad, there are multiple suspects, another murder, more suspects and alibis, clues and lies. Everybody seems to think Teddy can find the killer. Joe’s recused himself for obvious reasons. Teddy’s been involved with murders before, but this is different. This is family.

If you’re looking for a book full of humor, exotic animals, dinosaur puppets and the puppeteers, surprises and shocks, murders and misdirection, devious behavior, and betrayal, this is where you’ll find it all. Webb tells about the zoo animals and their quirks without disrupting the mystery. Readers will become attached to Poonya, with her little foxlike face and big fluffy tail.

Teddy is someone you’d like for your best friend. Her family would welcome you to the dinner table and make you feel at home. Plus, you’d get to see the red panda.

My only disappointment is—this is book six in the series, and it’s the first one I’ve read. Previous books include an anteater, koala, llama, puffin, and otter. I am going to have to read them all. This one was just too much fun and a darn good mystery besides.

Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the Arch in St. Louis Missouri. A Murder of Crows, edited by Sandra Murphy (a popular title so you need her name to search), has twenty-one cozy stories. Each features the collective name of an animal and a crime. The animals range from tarantulas, koalas, wolves, bears, jellyfish, toads, cats, dogs, alpaca, goats, penguins and more. No animals were harmed. The people weren’t so lucky. Available at the usual outlets, print or ebook.

Interview with Betty Webb:

KRL: How long have you been writing?

Betty: I wrote my first novel, Desert Mane, when I was 14 years old. It was about a girl and a horse.

KRL: When did your first novel come out?

Betty: My first PUBLISHED novel (no publisher had been interested in Desert Mane) came out in 1976, but it was so awful I’m not going to give you the title. Fortunately, it was published under my then last name, so you’ll never be able to track it down. As with so many first novels, it was autobiographical and terribly pretentious.

KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?

Betty: Well, after Desert Mane and that other awful book (which shall continue to be nameless), I had a 20-year journalism career. Besides, getting to interview famous folks like astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Jay Leno, I also wrote about domestic abuse and/or religious cults.

Betty Webb

KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?

Betty: Ah, the Gunn Zoo series. Well, after retiring from journalism, I became a volunteer at the Phoenix Zoo, working in an enclosure named Monkey Village. Monkeys being what they are, there was never a boring moment! Then one day, I thought to myself, “Someone should write a book about this.” So, I did.

My zookeeper sleuth, Theodora “Teddy” Bentley, keeps stumbling over dead humans, both on and off zoo property. These books picture zoo life pretty realistically, but not wanting the Phoenix Zoo to get a reputation as a dangerous place, I moved the zoo to California. Yes, we fiction writers can rearrange geography to suit our needs!

KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?

Betty: While I was still writing the Lena Jones Desert series (10 books, from Desert Noir through Desert Redemption) Publishers Weekly called me “a mystery writer with a social conscience,” and my Desert Wives did help bring down polygamy “prophet” Warren Jeffs (he’s now doing 25-to-life for child rape). I also wrote about female genital mutilation in Desert Cut. The Gunn Zoo books were supposed to be entertainment-only, but alert readers have pointed out that I often discuss climate change and/or the shrinking of wild animals’ habitats.

KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?

Betty: I’m at my computer up every morning from 5 a.m. to around noon and then I go do human things.

KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?

Betty: I ALWAYS outline (it’s so much fun!). But somewhere around Chapter 3, I always throw the outline away and start “pantsing.” I love the surprises it brings.

KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?

Betty: I am already writing at my ideal time of day, although “burning the midnight oil” does sound romantic. The novel I wrote at 14 received nothing but rejection slips, but some of them were quite sweet (“Keep writing, Sweetheart!”). Thirty years later, I began writing fiction again, choosing the mystery genre. My first two mysteries – both unpublished – stank to high heaven, but at the time, I didn’t understand why I kept getting rejection slips. Once I wised-up, I got published and I’ve been “lucky” ever since.

KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?

Betty: Boy, do I! When Desert Wives–a barely-fictionalized mystery involving polygamy “prophet” Warren Jeffs and his wacko cult — came out some critic based in Nevada ranted and raved (not in a good way) about it. She even flat-out called me a liar, writing that there was no such thing as polygamy in America and that I should be sued for slander. Thinking back about that “review” always makes me grin.

KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?

Betty: It was August, and I was in some sweltering southern state, and the mystery/fantasy bookstore where I was supposed to be signing at hadn’t done anything to announce it. They’d even forgotten I was scheduled! So only two people showed up. One was a homeless guy who was only there for the cookies and cider, and the other was a “goth-ish”girl wearing a black cape and vampire teeth. Neither bought a book.

KRL: Future writing goals?

Betty: To keep on writing. Period.

KRL: Writing heroes?

Betty: Stephen King, Carol Shields, Dean Koontz, Kate Atkinson, and David Morrell (be sure and read Morrell’s Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing, one of the best ever how-to books).

KRL: What kind of research do you do?

Betty: As a journalist, I believe in “boots on the ground,” so I always travel to the places mentioned in my books. For instance, I went to Utah for Desert Wind, Iceland for The Puffin of Death, Moss Landing CA for The Panda of Death, and have taken several trips to Paris for my work-in-progress (yeah, it’s a hard life, but someone has to do it).

During my visits, I interview the locals, and buy locally written non-fiction about the area. I also buy the local newspapers. One of my favorites was a newspaper in Santa Barbara CA, which had the snarkiest police log column I’ve ever read (“Around 2:35 p.m. some slimebucket stole an eight-year-old’s Wonder Woman backpack as she walked home from school. The suspect is around six-foot, has a shaved head, a snake tattoo around his dastardly neck and has obvious dental problems. $50 reward for the return of the backpack, no questions asked.”

KRL: What do you read?

Betty: Just about everything, including poetry and non-fiction, but the largest part of my home library – loaded bookcases in every room — consists of mysteries and thrillers.

KRL: Favorite TV or movies?

Betty: Avatar, Murder on the Orient Express, Better Call Saul, Dead Like Me, and Lost, which I’m now watching in reruns. Yeah, I have a thing for snark and the supernatural.

KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?

Betty: Write every single day, no exceptions. Creativity is like a muscle – use it or lose it.

KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Betty: That I was raised on a farm, and my chores included milking the goat.

KRL: Website and social media?

Betty: www, and Twitter?
Betty Webb. Facebook? Betty Webb.writer

To enter to win an ebook copy of The Panda of Death, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “panda,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 4, 2020. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode goes up next week!

You can use this link to purchase any of these books from indie bookstore Mysterious Galaxy, and KRL gets a portion of the sale:

You can use this link to purchase the book on Amazon. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the link:

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. Red pandas are my niece’s favorite animals! Count me in!

  2. Thanks for the giveaway. I love this series.

  3. Sounds like fun to read. Really interesting zoo animals and quirky characters. Thank you for the chance

  4. Love this series. Can’t wait to
    get my hands on this installment.
    thanks. txmlhl(at)yahoo(dot)com

  5. This sounds delightful! Thank you for the chance!

  6. New series to me. Love the red panda on the cover. Thanks for the chance.

  7. I enjoy this series much more than the darker Lena Jones series. It is well plotted and thoroughly researched. I have selected Betty as one of the authors my reading group has read in the past.

    karen94066 at aol dot com

  8. Since my daughter is a zookeeper and her animals include Red Pandas, I think this would be a fun read to give her. (After I read it of course)

  9. Not being familiar with Betty Webb, I appreciate being able to acquire information about her books from your blog. Thank you for the opportunity to enter your giveaway. robeader53(at)yahoo(dot)com

  10. This sounds like a fun read. Thank you so much for this chance to win.

  11. We have a winner!


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.