Ach, thank goodness! A book I can recommend without reservation! After that whole Vida affair let me tell you, I was pretty cheesed off. To have spent my time, my precious, limited time... But enough of that. This is something totally different.
Sadly, from the beginning of the book we already know the child of Balthazar Jones (a Beefeater at the Tower of London) and his wife Hebe (who works in the lost and found in the London underground) has died. We don't know how, but we know the delightful, bright and beautiful Milo has passed away, leaving the couple mired in bereavement.
As so often happens in such a situation, Balthazar and Hebe have allowed their son's death to drive a wedge between them. Not to say they dislike each other, or don't still bear some measure of love deep down, but things have not been the same for them after their loss. Not that that's not perfectly understandable, but instead of turning to each other they've instead turned away. And the end result of that... Well, read the book.
And the Tower of London! What Anglophile doesn't feel a TWANG! when it's mentioned? We get so much of it in this book, descriptions of the grisly deaths (not too graphic, don't worry!), the crown jewels, and the round rooms in which the Beefeaters and their families must make their homes. Ever thought about how difficult furniture placement is in a round home? Of course not! Because you haven't needed to! But the Jones's have.
We also get lovely plot lines, perfect sub-plots within the plots, and wonderfully understated British humor throughout. Things really begin picking up when Balthazar becomes, by royal decree, the Keeper of the Menagerie (as in animals - wild ones which should be in a zoo) at the Tower. Before things have even settled the penguins - a gift to the queen from who knows what country - disappear, a riot ensues when someone (won't say who) maliciously opens all the cages and everyone's running from the deadly Komodo dragon... But, finally, Balthazar gets a more firm handle on things. Only to have the rest of his life fall apart.
All the while, the Ravenmaster's getting it on with the woman who makes the inedible food in the Tower's cafe, and another character - with aspirations for furthering her education - becomes pregnant, threatening any chance she had of pursuing an advanced degree. A clergyman falls in love, as does Hebe's co-worker in the underground (not with each other, mind). Wires are crossed, misunderstandings run riot. It's a positive joy, always in motion, never too jumbled to keep the plot tight.
Oh, and the tortoise! Did I mention the Jones's own the oldest recorded tortoise - 181 years old - named Mrs. Cook? And in the end you'll love her. Positively love her.
How to explain such a rough and tumble plot... I can't. Too much is going on, and it's all so, so perfect. You know how the Brits are! They're so darn funny, so eccentric (okay, not ALL of them), so loveable. It makes for a delectable read laced with both humor and the seriousness of life and death. There are love stories, tales of love thwarted then rewarded. Wonderful, wonderful.
AND THE ENDING WORKS! IT WORKS!
Refreshing when that happens. Read it, read it, read it!