I have read the 110th book for the book challenge. It was The Tower, The Zoo, And The Tortoise: A Novel by Julia Stuart.
Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater guard at the Tower of London. He is one of the select few who guide the tourists and protect the Tower of London treasures. He lives in the Tower precincts with his wife Hebe Jones. They have a tense marriage, due to the death of their only child, a son, Milo. Milo died suddenly at the age of eleven. They have never gotten over his death two years ago. Hebe has shed many tears. Balthazar has shed none.
Balthazar has an odd hobby. He collects samples of rain water. When it rains, he can detect the type of rain and he collects the type of rain in a small bottle and stores them in a chest or cabinet in their Tower apartment.
The Joneses also have a pet tortoise named Mrs. Cook. Mrs. Cook is 180 years old. Her tail has been eaten off by the Tower ravens but other than that, she is in remarkable shape. She is very attached to the Joneses.
Hebe Jones works in the Lost Property Division of the London Underground. Anything that is lost on the tube comes to her office and she and Valerie Jennings make an effort to find the owners. Valerie has been seeing ticket inspector Arthur Catnip.
Also in the Tower is the Rev. Septimus Drew, the vicar. He writes erotic novels under a pen name and uses the proceeds to fund a house for fallen women. He is smitten with the pub’s owner, Ruby Dore, who happens to be pregnant.
Balthazar Jones is summoned by the Queen’s equerry. The Queen wants to move her menagerie from the London Zoo to the Tower. And Balthazar is to be the keeper of the animals. So the animals in the menagerie are all moved from the zoo to the Tower. Only the penguins go missing and four giraffes are added that do not belong to the Queen. An albatross who had mated with a zoo albatross is distraught over losing his mate. A bearded pig that was not intended to come has been sent, as well.
The tourists love the animals. Balthazar bonds with the animals and loves caring for them.
But Hebe decides to leave Balthazar since she believes he didn’t love Milo. She stays with Valerie for a while and then gets a small apartment. She spends much time tracking down the family of Clementine Perkins, whose urn of ashes were left on the Underground. After months of searching, Hebe finds her husband and returns the ashes. They talk and she tells him about her separation from Balthazar. He gives her some advice.
Septimus Drew is also giving Balthazar some advice about getting Hebe back. But Septimus is planning to leave his post of vicar to devote his time to writing and his house of fallen women.
Then someone lets all the animals loose. There is chaos as the guards try to round up the birds and animals. It was done out of spite by the Ravenmaster. Finally the animals are all found except for the green parrot who refuses to be caught.
Then the Queen changes her mind. She decides the animals are better off in the London Zoo. So the menagerie is moved back to the London Zoo. Balthazar oversees the move and is glad the albatross will be reunited with its mate. The penguins have been found.
Balthazar returns home. He finds Hebe there. She has returned. She realizes that Balthazar loved Milo. She loves Balthazar. Mrs. Cook, who has been missing, decides to reappear. Balthazar will be moving with Hebe into the Ravenmaster’s quarters. They will start anew.
This is a sweet story. It is not fast paced. Instead, it is gently told, and you slowly get to know each of the characters. They become old friends. You get to know their pain and their sorrow, which is great. But there is also great joy in the animals and the tourists who come to visit the animals. As I said, this is really a sweet story.