The Tower, the Zoo, and the TortoiseLarge Print - 2011
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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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