The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise

The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise

Book - 2010
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Random House, Inc.
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.


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

Publisher: Toronto : Bond Street Books, 2010
ISBN: 9780385669689
Branch Call Number: STU
Characteristics: 304 p


From the critics

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Nov 17, 2018

Quirkiness either charms or devolves. Unfortunately the premise that the Queen's personal zoo creatures would be simply transferred to a makeshift habitat, their nurturing be added to the job description of the full-time guards, any qualifying knowledge of needs and habits to be or not to be pursued individually takes "quirky" to an adolescent level. The humor, basically built around the bathroom genre of funny is suitably matched. Now, if the history of the Tower of London inclusive to the least and to all details is of interest, then this book will reward and delight. Animals, guards and humor are the foils to ensnare your attention.
I did not finish the book.

SPPL_Betsy Mar 14, 2018

Balthazar Jones and his wife, Hebe, are mourning the loss of their only son. They live in the Tower of London with their ancient pet tortoise, and a community of eccentric characters who, like Balthazar, work within the Tower walls. Balthazar is a Beefeater, a ceremonial guard. Not long into the book, Balthazar is informed that a zoo consisting of animals gifted to the Queen will be set up within the Tower walls and Balthazar is placed in charge. The situation is soon out of control after a bearded pig goes missing, giraffes are stolen, penguins escape, and a Komodo dragon terrifies visitors and dwellers of the Tower. In addition, Balthazar’s marriage is crumbling after Hebe leaves out of frustration when she fails to understand her husband’s style of mourning. Balthazar will need to come to terms with his son’s death in order to save his marriage and salvage a bit of sanity.

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is a good choice for readers seeking a gentle read with a humorous touch. The book may also appeal to fans of historical fiction; although the story takes place in present day, historical tales about the Tower are mentioned throughout the book.

Dec 28, 2016

I love quirky English stories and wanted to like this one. Unfortunately it lacks the subtle wit I have come to expect - the humor feels like it's trying too hard. I actually even looked up the author to see if it was an American trying to write a 'British-style' novel. Did not finish.

Feb 19, 2016

An unusual and tender story.

Chortlesnort Apr 29, 2015

Atmospheric and unique. A little bit 'rum' in places as the Brits would say. Clever and amusing, but at times moving.

Nov 01, 2014

"The tassled flag flew high over the fulsom buttocks."
Please forgive my spelling, I am such a poor speller I am not even sure when I am misspelling a word.
But back to the book. I hope I got that quote correct, Miss Stuart! Your book is amazing and I am so happy I stumbeled upon your books!
This book is great!
Thankyou for writing it and sharing it with the rest of us!

Aug 22, 2012

Be off with you. It was a lovely book. Full of romance, with just enough pathos so it wasn't cloying. I'm thinking of carrying a copy around the Tower next time I go.

Feb 06, 2012

Not sure why I bothered finishing this one. The overall tone is quite sad, and the style of forced whimsicality is both jarringly precious and off-key.

RenGrrl Nov 10, 2011

Very cute.

Oct 30, 2011

I normally dislike books filled with characters that are quirky just for the sake of being quirky, but while other authors create a cast of oddballs just to hide the fact that there's nothing else of interest to their story, there's actually a fair bit going on here--interesting historical anecdotes (though I suspect many are made up), humour, poignancy, and some unusual animals.

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Jul 03, 2014

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!

DanniOcean Nov 29, 2010

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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