Few books have made me laugh out loud. Even fewer have stolen my heart. I can’t recall the last time a book has made me spit my tea with laughter. The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise is, on the surface, clever and hysterical. Below that surface is the charm of the novel, which is heart warming, and at times, heart breaking. The story revolves around the life of Balthazar Jones, a Beefeater who has lived and worked at the Tower of London for the past 8 years. His wife is Hebe, who works at London Underground’s Lost Property Office (a separate novel could be written about the items that are turned in on a daily basis). When Balthazar is approached to set up a menagerie at the Tower to house the exotic animals that have been gifted to the Queen over the years, chaos ensues. Imagine Beefeaters, pub owners and a clergyman suddenly living amidst everything from Komodo dragons to monkeys who keep exposing themselves. The tourists they are supposed to attract pose their own problems, and you never know what the next page will bring. The actual heart of the book, however, is about the loss of Balthazar and Hebe’s 11-year old son, and how this darling and devoted couple have drifted away from one another in their efforts to cope.
The finale for each zany character is both sweet and satisfying. The Washington Times called this book “a marvelous confection,” and I couldn’t agree more! Julia Stuart has penned a book rich with characters and English history, and it will steal your heart too. Just watch yourself if you’re drinking tea. 4 stars.