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A sensitive Beefeater, his wife and assorted other eccentrics cope with modern life in the infamous Tower of London.
Considering he spends much of his day telling tourists where the lavatories are, Balthazar Jones takes pride in his coveted role as Yeoman Warder (aka Beefeater) for one on England's top destinations. The former officer in Her Majesty's Forces shares his centuries-old, on-site lodgings with his wife Hebe, a no-nonsense woman of Greek descent who works in the lost-and-found office for the London subway service. Once very much in love, Balthazar and Hebe have grown apart since the death of their 11-year-old son Milo three years ago. Balthazar's life takes an unexpected turn when he is put in charge of the Tower's new menagerie. Consisting of animals gifted to the Queen by various nations, the new arrivals include a Komodo dragon, giraffes erroneously credited to the country of Sweden, as well as some naughty marmosets. The non-zoo Tower residences include the unlucky-in-love Rev. Septimus Drew, who writes erotica under a pseudonym while yearning for Ruby Dore, the proprietress at the Tower's only pub. Oblivious to the reverend's adoration, Ruby finds herself in the delicate situation of being pregnant and unwed. Then there is the mustachioed Ravenmaster, who, when he's not looking after his ill-natured flock, manages to carry on a dalliance with the pneumatic cook, Ambrosine Clarke. The zoo proves popular with visitors, and Balthazar finds himself bonding with creatures great and small. But his enthusiasm for the zoo doesn't help his damaged marriage, as Hebe makes a fateful decision that impacts them both. Our hero is left trying to win back his wife's heart while juggling multiple potential catastrophes.
Stuart's second novel (The Matchmaker of Périgord, 2008) employs a whimsical over-the-top style that occasionally draws attention to itself, but the tale is grounded by the moving central love story. This sweet romp will appeal to history buffs.