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Monday, July 26, 2010

The Koala of Death

Writing THE KOALA OF DEATH (debuting August 15) was like being mobbed by a pack of puppies -- a giggle a minute. Sure, there were a couple of murders along the way, and poor zookeeper/sleuth Theodora “Teddy” Bentley faced her usual woes with misbehaving animals and humans, but regardless, writing KOALA earned me some of the biggest laughs of my life. Most memorable, I think, was the scene where Teddy gets attacked by a surly flamingo while taking part in the Gunn Zoo’s Great Flamingo Roundup. On second thought, maybe it was the scene where Teddy gets roped into appearing on a local TV program with some of the zoo’s exotic animals, whereupon a lemur and a wallaby... Oh, well, I’ll let you read that for yourself.

Teddy’s workplace is fun, but so is Gunn Landing Harbor, where she lives on a houseboat with D.J. Bonz, her three-legged dog, and Miss Priss, her one-eyed cat. Her eccentric boat-dwelling neighbors are a treat, too, as is her much-married, ex-beauty queen mother, and an obviously fraudulent “animal psychic” named Speaks-To-Souls. In fact, Teddy’s entire world in KOALA was such a gas that writing it was like being on vacation in a place where I, in my too-busy real life, couldn’t possibly manage.

But that’s the fun of writing, isn’t it? We write about the worlds we’d like to visit, not necessarily those we actually live in (not that I’m complaining; life in Scottsdale, Arizona, isn’t all that miserable). That’s partially the reason we read, too. Housebound and can’t manage a cross-country trip through China? Read Peter Hessler’s COUNTRY DRIVING; A JOURNEY THROUGH CHINA FROM FARM TO FACTORY. If you want to know about the trials newspapers are facing these days, read Jon Talton's DEADLINE MAN, about a columnist working at a dying newspaper; it'll make any former reporter weep. Sick and tired of the entire 21st Century? Read an 18th century adventure/sci-fi blend, such as Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER series, or even Gibbons’ THE RISE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. Or -- and this is how mystery writers like to take their “vacations” -- lose yourself in a historical mystery, such as Eric Mayer and Mary Reed’s ONE FOR SORROW, which is set during the Byzantine Empire. It's the first of a remarkable series.

But back to present day and THE KOALA OF DEATH. Fun as Teddy Bentley’s world was to write about, the book didn’t come into being without a few problems. One of those problems appears to be ongoing, because today, I had the funniest experience. Literally. Midway through writing a scene in DESERT WIND, the 7th Lena Jones mystery, I noticed something unsettling; the scene was hilarious.

Now, anyone who’s read the Lena Jones books knows that although they tend to be pretty grim, the private investigator does have a sense of humor. But those books are still dark, very dark, not at all the proper place for the frothy, nitrous-oxide-on-the-brain stuff I’d been writing for the past eight pages. So what the heck was going on? Had Lena’s anger management therapy finally started to work, and had she finally begun to see the world and all its outrageousness through pink-tinted glasses?

While that would be nice, I suspect that the answer is far more simple: Teddy Bentley has been giving relationship advice to my notoriously relationship-phobic detective.

Be that as it may, KOALA has been getting some great reviews. Here are just some of them.

“A sleuth with a wealthy background and a great deal of zoological knowledge and brain power. From mucking out the cages to carrying a lemur with a loose sphincter onto a TV set, Teddy’s adventures will appeal to fans of animal-themed cozies.” Library Journal

“Webb warmly evokes the unconventional worlds of zoo and marina. Readers don't even have to be animal lovers to enjoy watching, say, a pushy television host get her comeuppance from a mischievous lemur.” Publishers Weekly

“Teddy’s second adventure will appeal to animal lovers who enjoy a bit of social satire with their mystery.” Booklist

“An engaging array of quirky characters, human and animal.” Kirkus Reviews

To read more about THE KOALA OF DEATH, visit www.bettywebb-zoomystery.com

To read more about the LENA JONES series, visit www.bettywebb-mystery.com

To find out if Betty will be signing or holding a writers workshop near you, visit

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