The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart might have the most endearing characters I've encountered in awhile. I had no idea where the story was going for most of the book but I didn't care because Balthazar Jones and all the rest of the characters were keeping me perfectly entertained.
Balthazar Jones is a Yeoman Warder of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Member of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary... or a Beefeater. He and his wife, Hebe Jones, live in the Salt Tower in the Tower of London because all the Beefeaters live in the Tower of London. While Balthazar and Hebe are dealing with personal tragedy, Balthazar is contacted to be in charge of the reinstatement of the Royal Menagerie at the Tower. He's been chosen because of Mrs. Cook, his family's 181 year old tortoise. Meanwhile, Hebe Jones, her co-worker and friend Valerie Jennings, Tower residents like the Reverend Septimus Drew and the Yeoman Gaoler and others work through their own daily trials and triumphs.
The animals that make up the menagerie include Jesus Christ lizards, Geoffroy's marmosets, a zorilla, ringtail possums, toucans, a lonely wandering albatross and many others. The animals and the Tower setting are as important to the story as the human characters. That said, some of the best scenes are in the London Underground's Lost Property Office, where Hebe Jones and Valerie Jennings work. Their office is filled with items left in train cars or at stops. It is a lost-and-found so big it takes two people to keep track of all the false teeth, shoes, inflatable dolls, canoes, plants and whatever else turns up until rightful owners can be located.
The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise is a book that can be dark at times. It takes place mostly at the Tower of London, which is primarily a tourist attraction now but once held many prisoners, some of which were tortured and some of which died in the Tower. It's filled with reminders of those times. Some of the characters have personal problems they're trying to overcome. Rev. Septimus Drew builds contraptions to try and kill the rats that have long resided in the chapel. However, humor and the charm of the quirky characters won me over again and again. It is not a depressing book; in fact it is ultimately uplifting. Julia Stuart has written us a very charming novel.