On 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
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
“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)