The Tower, the Zoo and the TortoiseBook - 2010
Brimming with charm, sparkling prose and undeniably unique characters, this hilarious novel set in the Tower of London has the transportive qualities and delightful magic of the contemporary classics Chocolat and Amelie.
Balthazar Jones has lived in the Tower of London with his loving wife, Hebe, and his pet, the oldest living tortoise, for the past eight years. That's right, he is a Beefeater. It's no easy job navigating the trials and tribulations that come with living and working in the largest tourist attraction in London. The once white-hot flame of Hebe and Balthazar's love has been snuffed in the few years since their son Milo died, a death for which Balthazar blames himself.
When Balthazar is tasked with setting up an elaborate menagerie within the Tower walls to house the many exotic animals gifted to the Queen by foreign dignitaries, life at the Tower gets all the more interesting. Penguins escape, a bearded pig goes missing, giraffes are stolen, the komodo dragon sends innocent people running for their lives, and canaries suffer fainting fits. As he attempts to cope with this four-legged invasion and his marriage continues to crumble, Balthazar must confront the secret he has been harbouring about his son's death, if he wants to save his marriage and his sanity.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Balthazar Jones: Beefeater, overseer of the Tower's royal menagerie, father to Milo, and collector of rain
Hebe Jones: Balthazar's wife who works at London Underground's Lost Property Office
Mrs. Cook: Balthazar and Hebe's 180 + year-old tortoise - the oldest tortoise in the world
Arthur Catnip: London Underground ticket inspector of limited height
Rev. Septimus Drew: Tower chaplain who writes forbidden prose and pines for one of the residents
Ruby Dore: Barmaid at the Tower's Rack & Ruin pub who has a secret
Valerie Jennings: Hebe's eccentric colleague who falls for someone of limited height
The Ravenmaster: Philandering Beefeater who looks after the Tower's ravens
Sir Walter Raleigh: Former Tower prisoner and its most troublesome ghost
Chief Yeoman Warder: Suspicious head Beefeater
Oswin Fielding: Equerry to The Queen
Samuel Crapper: Lost Property Office's most frequent customer
Yeoman Gaoler: Deputy to the Chief Yeoman Warder who is terrorized by ghostly poetry at night
From the critics
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A delightful story featuring a Beefeater at the Tower of London who has a collection of rainwater and is tasked with caring for the Queen's menagerie, his wife who works at the London Underground Lost & Found and tries to reunite the lost with their owners, and a vicar who is determined to dispose of all the rats nibbling away at the chapel's tapestry kneelers and write romance novels on the side... penguins get lost, animals escape, secret romances flourish... fun!
Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater who fails to catch pickpockets but catches the different varieties of rain in delicate Egyptian perfume bottles. He shares a grief with his wife Hebe, who works for the Underground’s vast lost and found department and spouts enigmatic Greek proverbs. Their tortoise, Mrs. Cook, is the world’s oldest of her kind. The Reverend Septimus Drew is a rat-catcher supreme, and a writer of erotic fiction whose heart’s desire is for a family of his own. A cast of other strange and wonderful characters all with secrets and talents, what could they possibly have in common? They all live within the Tower of London, that London landmark of history and blood, ill-named as it is actually a series of many towers within a fortress. Yes, people live there. They can’t get a plumber or delivered pizza because everyone believes their address is a joke. The “loathsome” tourists are forever thinking their bathrooms are public loos. Sir Walter Raleigh’s ghost keeps them awake most nights. And now, in typical “seems like a good idea at the time” government fashion, the Palace has decided to re-impose on the Tower’s inhabitants the menagerie which was part of the Tower for two centuries - before the animals were moved to the London Zoo. Argentinean penguins, Etruscan shrews, an albatross in mourning, playful pigs, estranged lovebirds, exhibitionist marmosets named after a certain red-headed Royal, kidnapped giraffes and something called a ‘zorilla’. And Balthazar Jones, a “Yeoman Warder of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London” has been put in charge of it. Very little dialogue makes the novel introspective, the characters connected but sadly not communicating, and when Balthazar’s paralyzing grief causes him to lose Hebe, it is the solitary Reverend who reminds him that the kindness and affection he has for the Tower’s animals should be shared with his human family. What sounds at first to be a quirky story is certainly filled with off-kilter humour, but Julia Stuart writes in an almost poetic style, full of warmth, pathos and empathy for the Tower’s inhabitants and their collective histories. The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise is a beautifully written novel, for fans of British humour and history, and for anyone wanting to be reminded of the redeeming power of love.
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