“Set in modern day London, the Queen has decided to resurrect the Royal Menagerie and has asked Balthazar Jones , Beefeater in the Tower, to oversee the project. Balthazar is Her Majesty’s obvious choice since “She is aware that you are in possession of the world’s oldest specimen, which, of course, is a source of great national pride. Such an animal undoubtedly requires the most tender care.” The specimen is a tail-less tortoise named Mrs. Cook. The impetus for the resurrection is the hopeful revival of interest in the Tower by tourists. But, Balthazar is more than an animal whisperer, he, and the rest of the cast, are well drawn characters, in the truest sense of that word, living life that may be similar to yours. A once well -grounded marriage, “I’ve pitied every man I’ve ever met for not being married to her,” is now falling apart after the loss of the only child, others are pursuing love for the first time, some are chasing alternate careers in private, friendships are strained, and many of the residents at the Tower feel a sense of loneliness.
I would not classify this as a laugh out loud book. It is full of wit and dry humor, appropriate for a novel set in the UK. There are definitely times the reader will smile, and smile big, like when reading about the questions the public poses to the Beefeaters during tours of the Tower and at the absurdity of items (a kidney, an inflatable doll, a glass eye, an urn of ashes, etc) left in the Tube and eventually reunited with the rightful owners through the Lost and Found department of the Tube. In addition to the ridiculous items, each item has an endearing story of its own. What is commendable is Stuart’s ability to write and evoke a range of emotions. On the surface the stories may seem silly. The characters are definitely quirky. But, underneath the wit, the reader is treated to a story of how heartbreak can heal.