The Hidden Keys – André Alexis

The Hidden KeysOn the Cover: Although the Green Dolphin is a bar of ill repute, it is there that Tancred Palmieri, a thief with elegant and erudite tastes, meets Willow Azarian, an aging heroin addict. She reveals to Tancred that her very wealthy father has recently passed away, leaving each of his five children a mysterious object that provides one clue to the whereabouts of a large inheritance. Willow enlists Tancred to steal these objects from her siblings and solve the puzzle.

A Japanese screen, a painting that plays music, an aquavit bottle, a framed poem, and a model of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater: Tancred is lured in to this beguiling quest, and even though Willow dies before he can begin, he presses on.

As he tracks down the treasure, however, he must enlist the help of Alexander von Wurfel, esteemed copyist, and fend off Willow’s heroin dealers, a young albino named “Nigger” Colby and his sidekick, Sigismund “Freud” Luxemburg, a club-footed psychopath, both of whom are eager to get their paws on this supposed pot of gold. And he must mislead Detective Daniel Mandelshtam, his most adored friend.

Based in a reading of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, The Hidden Keys questions what it means to be honorable and what it means to be faithful.

Published: September 2016


 

The Review:

When I first started this book I didn’t like any of the characters. It was surprisingly the narrating voice that sucked me into this world and kept me captivated. It was also the narrator’s voice that made me take a hard look at Tancred and want to learn more about him. The mystery of this book really revolves around Tancred, as he doesn’t reveal much about himself, doesn’t speak much, and is a professional mystery.  Yet the narrator kept me focused on Tancred’s story. I loved the narrating voice and the style that Alexis wrote this book in.

This is in essence a puzzle book, and that’s what drew me to this book in the first place. I loved the puzzle in this book. The pieces of the puzzle are absolutely fascinating and I loved learning how they fit together. The puzzle pieces were beautiful and the descriptions were so well done that I fell in love with every piece. The puzzle did have some drawbacks, however, as it was not overly difficult. I also felt like the narrative didn’t really allow me to ponder over what the answers might be as they were delivered quite quickly. While the mystery in the book might have been lacking, it balanced out with how interesting the puzzle was.

The Hidden Keys is a book I might never have picked up, but I’m really glad I did. It is intriguing, has beautiful descriptions, and it made me think. The book is written in a style that was new to me, but also spoke to me, and I’m definitely interested in reading more of Alexis’ works and exploring this narrating voice further. If you love slower paced puzzle books filed with interesting characters, check this one out.

Rating: 4 / 5

Quotations:

“During their months in Japan, they had – when both were free – travelled around the country together, taking trains to Kyoto, Nara, Kobe and Tokyo. She could still recall the small towns along the way, the baseball diamonds, the fields and houses, the tall buildings and neon lights. It was on these travels that Willow discovered her love for the painted screens of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Japan: gesso, gold leaf, a season coming to life panel by panel as the screen is opened. Leave it to her father to remember her enchantment and remind her of the works she’d loved.” (p 23)

“It was odd, being in that place. The mausoleum seemed to bear a message. The place itself meant something, but it felt, to Tancred, as if its meaning were just out of reach. Clearly, the mausoleum pointed to the idea of home or family. But, all the same, Tancred did not feel he had taken in the place’s full significance. He was not convinced he ever could. The mind behind this room was so foreign to him.” (p 133)

“Simone remembered the night still. The moon above them was white and full – not a crescent, as Michael remembered. There had been the smell of tar and pine. And then, of course, there had been the music itself: each note clear, the piano stopping and starting unpredictably, then going on for long stretches, like magic.” (p 118)

A Number of Things: Stories About Canada Told Through 50 Objects – Jane Urquhart

28374401On the Cover: From one of our nation’s most beloved and iconic authors comes a lyrical 150th birthday gift to Canada. Jane Urquhart chooses 50 Canadian objects and weaves a rich and surprising narrative that speaks to our collective experience as a nation.

Each object is beautifully illustrated by the noted artist Scott McKowen, with Jane Urquhart conjuring and distilling meaning and magic from these unexpected facets of our history.

The fifty artifacts range from a Nobel Peace Prize medal, a literary cherry tree, a royal cowcatcher, a Beothuk legging, a famous skull and an iconic artist’s shoe, as well as an Innu tea doll, a Sikh RCMP turban, a Cree basket, a Massey-Harris tractor and a hanging rope, among an array of unexpected and intriguing objects.

Bringing the curiosity of the novelist and the eloquence of the poet to her task, Jane Urquhart composes a symphonic memory bank with objects that resonate with symbolic significance. In this compelling portrait of a completely original country called Canada, a master novelist has given all of us a national birthday bouquet like no other.

Published: October 2016


 

The Review:

This book contains a list of 50 objects, complete with description, history, significance, and why it relates to Canada as a whole. I was initially concerned that 50 objects would be a marathon, yet somehow this book absolutely engaged me as a reader.

There is such a fascinating variety of objects here and I never knew what was coming next. The book brought a smile to my face when I recognized an object and instilled a curiosity when I didn’t. While some of the items deeply resonated with me – Sir Isaac Brock’s hat, or a cross stitch sample – many did not, but instead exposed me to many of the cultures and histories that make up the fabric of Canada. Urquhart skillfully explains how each object is connected to the people and places of our country and why it is significant. It made me incredibly happy that not only did I feel represented but that I was taught something as well.

The only drawback to the book is that some objects are very strongly personal to Urquhart, and are accompanied by personal anecdotes in the description. While these objects do connect to the larger picture of Canada, they contrast sharply to the objects that are historic and have a textbook description. I had very mixed feelings about the inclusion of personal stories; while this was Urquhart’s version of Canada, the personal touches felt out of place and more appropriate for a memoir.

All drawbacks aside, this is a fascinating collection. It gives a superb snapshot of so many corners of Canada and I was immensely impressed with how many different locations and cultures were represented in 50 objects. This is a great book to read for Canadians, to feel that smile when you read one of Urquhart’s objects and know it’s one of yours, too.

Rating: 4 / 5

Quotations: 

“Twisted metal and charred timbers lay in contorted positions around the foundation, and the old clock from the central tower, which purportedly had continued to tick and chime until the tower fell, was smashed on the ground. Rescued furniture and relics were piled haphazardly in the snow, and in some cases were covered in ice themselves. But one thing that was neither rescued nor hosed down and then frozen was the mace. And this was a big problem for Parliament. p 182 “Mace”

“Canadians love their libraries and their small bookstores, and in spite of all efforts to discourage us, we are very loyal to our authors, whether they write about camping in the Canadian wilds or never make reference to a Canadian landscape at all.” p 36 “Books”