The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius and Peter Graves (translator)

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The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius and Peter Graves (translator)

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A really fun read, of the like that is too scarce these days – a leisurely, well-built world with some fully-rounded characters you can only care greatly for.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 624 Date: September 2017
Publisher: Pushkin Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781782691617

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Sally Jones is in clover as a mechanic on a cargo ship – when, that is, there is cargo to actually ship. Having needed emergency repairs, the two-strong crew of her and the Chief are idling in Lisbon, and are given a mysterious and mysteriously overpaid job – a job that shouldn't go wrong, but does. Unfortunately for the Chief, taking even the first step at righting the wrong sees him arrested for murder. Sally Jones is forced into hiding, which she manages to do with a lovely, kind woman with a hidden talent for singing, and her landlord, who makes and repairs accordions and other musical instruments. Life with them seems to be a new form of clover, then, but hints of that past nastiness keep coming back to haunt Sally Jones, especially when there's a suggestion that the alleged murder victim might still be alive…

Oh, and did I say that Sally Jones is actually a gorilla?

This drama seems to have been set in the first third of the last century, and while accurately conveying the feel of the real world settings – from the music, tastes and suchlike of Lisbon to other climes I daren't mention for spoiler sake – it clearly is in the realm of fantasy to some extent. Sally Jones can write to get her thoughts across – in fact this whole novel is her typewritten testimony, she tells us, written to ward off recurring nightmares. Some people do have problems with her being a gorilla, but on the whole she's accepted, even if there don't seem to be any others of her like around.

But take the fantasy elements away and what the book boils down to is a lovely story of loyalty, and the search for justice. What was going on that night when the peculiar job went wrong, and who is to blame? Why did so much witness evidence pretend the Chief was attacking the man he was chasing? And how will Sally Jones get about to seek the truth when their boat has been holed and stuck upriver?

Trust me, you will care – she's a wonderful character. There's never too much effort to make an issue out of her gender, but her technical mind certainly is key to her appeal. The way she/the book evokes the life on board, and in other mechanical tasks, really helps make it distinctive. Everyone else is great fun, too, to have as company, although I would have much preferred more romance to be allowed to creep in – there are several couplings possible, and without giving too much away, the author denies us that; perhaps that was one slightly old-fashioned path he didn't want to take. So we're stuck with merely the many old-fashioned qualities that are actually here.

Pushkin have once more presented another wonderful book from elsewhere in the world for our delectation. The immediate reference, and one that's too obvious for me to be the first to make, is with Brian Selznick, for this is a similar-sized chunk of book to his more well-known hits, and while the pictures are illustrative and not narrative, the style can be quite similar. It's a small shame that this is a sequel and the original, what brought Sally Jones to such a friendship with the Chief, has not been presented first, especially as that seems even more pictorial – more in keeping with the author's near-graphic novel beginnings. That book is also a heck of a lot shorter, but this, even with its huge width, is no impenetrable monster – it's a bright read, and the pages flash by with suitable speed. Once or twice I was aware the musical hosts of Sally Jones were diverting everyone away from the core drama, but just when I itched for something different, lo and behold it was only a chapter away. Any woolliness is in the long part two, as that is defining character while delaying the real drama too much.

But nothing here is a chore to read, and pretty much all of it is sheer pleasure. Classy, well-presented and old-fashioned pleasure. And you should be on board for that.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick was, of course, the book I was referencing earlier.

Buy The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius and Peter Graves (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius and Peter Graves (translator) at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius and Peter Graves (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius and Peter Graves (translator) at Amazon.com.


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