The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise, by Julia Stuart, combines the comic and the serious in an original and entertaining plot. Set at the Tower of London, the story focuses on one of the Tower's official guardians (Beefeaters) and his wife, Hebe. Surrounding them are colorful characters: their 181 year old pet tortoise, Mrs. Cook; Ruby Dore, bar manager at the Tower's Rack and Ruin pub; Rev. Septimus Drew, the Tower's Anglican priest and writer of erotica; and Valerie Jennings, Hebe's good friend and office mate.

Hebe and Valerie work in the London Underground's Department of Lost Things. They resemble social workers in their commitment to unite people with their lost belongings. This is not an average depository. It contains unique findings such as a safe, an urn, sixteen jars of preserved ginger, multiple sets of false teeth, and a "life-size inflatable doll...which no one had yet dared to claim."

In addition, the queen has decided that the gifts other countries have given her in the form of exotic animals should be moved from the London Zoo to the Tower. There is historical precedent for this. Balthazar Jones is put in charge of the animals, all of whom have personalities of their own.

Aside from the lives of these colorful characters, sightings of ghosts of former Tower prisoners, and many historical facts surrounding English history, the book centers on the marriage of Balthazar and Hebe. Once full of passion and mutual admiration, it is now one of despair after the death of their eleven-year-old son. The couple grieves separately, and silence takes the place of what was once joyful banter. Julia Stuart treats their plight with great respect, and the comic aspects of the book do not disparage their tragedy.

The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise is a delightful book--a perfect vacation read. It is light without being silly, and the author includes just enough English history for the book to be instructive.

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