This is an astonishing book. Not just because of its effortless, innocent, and engaging prose. Not just because its main character is an incredibly intelligent and emotionally aware gorilla who you immediately want to be friends with. And not just because its story is a meandering, thought-provoking, epic journey through the cultures, people and history of countries such as Portugal, Turkey, Great Britain, Africa, Egypt, down through the Suez Canal to Pakistan, and onto India.
Oh no, The Murderer’s Ape is more than all those things. It is beyond just being a book; I think it’s a complete work of art…which happens to have a great story inside it too.
With its gorgeous illustrations, maps, and adventurous cosy-epic route through a 1920s world of dastardly deeds, nasty double-crossing villains, and heart-warming kindness and friendship, I was totally drawn into the world Sally Jones, the gorilla, lives in.
With her best friend – and boar Captain – the Chief, Sally is a talented ship’s engineer. The pair take on the task of delivering some goods, but they soon discover the person wanting them delivered is actually smuggling guns. They get hauled into a world of trouble they weren’t prepared for, and then the Chief accidentally knocks a man called Alphonse Morro into the harbour and “kills” him.
The Chief is arrested and sent to jail for 25 years, which makes Sally very depressed. Luckily, she meets the wonderful and caring singer Ana who takes Sally in and teaches her to deal with her emotions. Bad and corrupt men tried to kill Sally – or put her in a zoo – so she has to escape her new life for a time on the run. All the while this is happening, the fact Sally is such a different narrator – a gorilla – it somehow adds to her vulnerability in the world of terrifying humans. And because Sally can’t speak, but understands and feels everything deeply, this makes the book’s read even more enthralling.
Sally discovers that the Chief is actually innocent of murder, and there is only one way to prove it. She heads off to India to find the man she’s looking for, and is swept into a new adventure of becoming a maharaja’s servant, then airplane engineer. There are some wonderful, tender moments in this part of the book which eventually leads round to Sally hunting half of India to try and find a man who can prove the Chief’s innocence.
I won’t tell you anymore of the story, as that would spoil it, but suffice to say: if you’re looking for a brilliant, intelligent, slow-building, truly old-fashioned piece of storytelling then Jakob Wegelius’ book The Murderer’s Ape will take your breath away.
Highly, highly recommend this!
Also by Jakob Wegelius, The Legend of Sally Jones – the prequel to The Murderer’s Ape.
[Reviewer’s own copy – we love it that much! Photos taken by Anthony Burt.]