My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater, or as he prefers, Yeoman Warder, at the world famous/infamous Tower of London. Despite the fact that their living quarters in Salt Tower are round and more than five centuries old, life was good for the Joneses until the the death of their young son. In their terrible grief, their once happy marriage has crumbled, and now both Balthazar and Hebe, his wife, are hurting too much to muster the energy to do anything about it.
This is a story that could be depressing, but author Julia Stuart deftly balances it with the Jones’s unusual friends, which include a lovesick vicar who secretly writes bestselling erotica, the oldest tortoise in existence ( more than 120 years and counting), the head of the Richard III Appreciation Society, and Hebe’s generously proportioned colleague at the London Underground lost property office. And let’s not forget the ghosts. When Balthazar is assigned to manage the newly recreated Tower Menagerie, composed of exotic animal gifts to the Queen from foreign powers, just about everything threatens to fall to pieces around him.
Tower/Zoo/Tortoise is a warm, quirky tale of love, loss, pain, coping, and healing, all wrapped around the prosaic but essential idea that we are all mostly alike and we all need each other. Ms. Stuart’s injections of wit and gentle humor, coupled with her ability to control her plot and avoid mawkishness, make this novel a little gem. It will make you smile. By the way, the name of the tortoise is Mrs. Cook.