Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer’s Ape, Pushkin Children’s Books, 23 August 2017, 640pp., $24.99 (hbk), ISBN: 9781782691617
In spare and direct language, Sally Jones tells the story of how she and the Chief came to meet and work together, and of the night the Chief chased Alphonse Morro and was arrested for Morro’s murder. Sally Jones knows the truth of what happened, but who is going to listen to, or even understand, a gorilla?
Then Sally Jones comes across a clue that suggests that Morro isn’t as dead as he’s supposed to be, and she becomes the target of sinister forces out to destroy her. To save her own life and prove the Chief’s innocence, Sally Jones is going to have to travel to the far-flung reaches of the world.
The premise of the book – the Murderer’s Ape herself – is enough to get anyone’s attention, but Jakob Wegelius manages to live up to the interest piqued by his central character and exercises a deft control over the story. Not a word is wasted as the puzzle pieces fit together in this story worthy of Tintin’s finest moments. Within that economy of language, Wegelius still generates a vivid and exotic sense of the places that Sally Jones finds herself in.
What I loved most about this book, though, was the strong and engaging cast of characters, from Ana with the dazzling voice and the kindest heart, and Signor Fidardo who hides his caring under a precise and abrasive manner, to the sinister Papa Montforte, who will stop at nothing to achieve his own mysterious ends. And, most of all, Sally Jones herself – the gorilla with a rare talent for engineering and mechanics, and a deep devotion to the people she cares about and who care about her.
The themes of devotion and loyalty are subtle but strong, repeated and reinforced throughout the story, and the courage of the central characters shines through. It is interesting to note who sees Sally Jones as herself, who treats her as an animal or a curiosity, and whose attitudes change as they come to know her. Sally Jones is both an active agent in her own story and a catalyst for the characters around her, bringing out their underlying natures for good or ill.
The Murderer’s Ape is a brilliant choice for readers aged 12 and up who are looking for something a bit different. In this book, they will find a murder, a mystery, and many adventures, with a fabulously interesting cast of characters.
Reviewed by Emily Clarke