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Book review: 'Llama of Death' is an entertaining tale

Published: Wednesday, April 17 2013 5:35 p.m. MDT

"THE LLAMA OF DEATH: A Gunn Zoo Mystery, No 3," by Betty Webb, Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95, 256 pages (f)

Alejandro the llama isn't really a suspect when the actor playing King Henry VIII turns up at the annual Monterey Bay Area Renaissance Faire with an arrow in his chest, but his life and the lives of dozens of married people in the town are upset when the body is found in Alejandro's compound in Betty Webb's "The Llama of Death."

Alejandro is shortly sent off to quarantine, and Theodora "Teddy" Bentley — a faire wench otherwise employed as a zookeeper at Gunn Zoo — starts trying to solve the mystery and get Alejandro back to giving rides to small children.

The story is a light one, which is somewhat of a surprise given that it deals with murder, deceit and betrayal.

There's really nothing bloody or boldly sexual, even though several characters, including the jailed, beautiful Caro (Bentley's mother) and on-the-run jail escapee father show no shame at using others and changing life partners as casually as changing an outfit.

Bentley just tries to talk sense into her parents and waits for her boyfriend, Sheriff Joe, to come back from Homeland Security training to stop his clueless assistant sheriff from mismanaging the investigation.

Bentley tries to live quietly on her boat, takes her dogs out for regular "walkies" and cares well for the creatures in Gunn Zoo while she attempts to put clues together and find the person blackmailing or being blackmailed by the victim.

Along the way, the reader learns all kinds of interesting things about anteaters, snakes, llamas, honey badgers and monkeys — how they play, how they react to the people who care for them and how they mate. (One character in the story thinks the zoo should be closed during mating season to protect the innocent.)

It makes for an entertaining, different sort of story that doesn't take itself too seriously.

It's creative, masterfully shared and easy to read.

The problems are real enough, but somehow no one has to agonize too long over any one bad circumstance. Something else happens or a new clue turns up and away you go.

Plus, Bentley has a kind of off-hand, quirky attitude that makes the journey fun and it all turns out all right for Alejandro in the end.

Thank goodness, because he doesn't really deserve isolation or punishment.

The worst thing he does is spit — oh, and stomp — on his enemies.

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@desnews.com

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