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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Murderer's Ape (The)
by Jakob Wegelius
Age Range: 12+
Sometimes a book comes along that simple takes your breath away. The Murderer’s Ape, by Swedish author and illustrator Jakob Wegelius, is one such book. Completely innovative and unique, it takes the reader on an amazing epic journey.
Sally Jones is an engineer working on the cargo ship the Hudson Queen with her friend Captain Henry Koskela, better known as the Chief. However, she is no ordinary mortal; she is a gorilla who has learnt to understand how humans think and what they say as well as how to fix engines, and to read and write. Certainly no mean feat for a gorilla!
The story, set in the 1920s, begins in Lisbon where the Hudson Queen has had to go into dry dock to be repaired. While on board Koskela is offered a chance to earn some money picking up a cargo in Agiere and bringing it back to Lisbon. But all is not as it seems: Sally Jones and Koskela soon find themselves taking on more than they bargained for when things go awry and the Chief gets framed for a murder he did not commit. The problem is that Sally Jones is the only witness to see what really happened, but how is she to prove the Chief’s innocence without a voice in society?
Nothing if not determined, Sally Jones proves an unlikely heroine now at the forefront of a murder investigation. With powerful forces working against her, who will stop at nothing to protect their own secrets, the quest to clear the Chief’s name will take Sally Jones from Portugal to India.
Wegelius’ masterful storytelling captures your imagination in an instant with a vibrant panorama of dazzling colours and aromas of both Portugal and India. It is full of eccentric and memorable characters who Sally Jones meets along the way – some who help and some who hinder her – from the warm-hearted Ana Molina with the beautiful singing voice and her friend and neighbour Luigi Fidardo, who offer Sally Jones a place of refuge, to the mysterious Alphonse Morro, sinister Chief Inspector Garretta and the corpulent, selfish and greedy Maharaja of Bhapur.
This international best-seller has so many ingredients to commend it: adventure, mystery, treachery, powerful friendships and the lovable and endearing Sally Jones herself. The author successfully demonstrates her empathy: whether it’s her steadfast loyalty to the Chief or her stay with the Maharaja of Bhapur – everyone is changed by their encounter with Sally Jones.
The tantalising plot, all 588 pages, is rich with meticulous detail – the intricacies of engines, Portuguese Fado music and the making and repairing of musical instruments – all brought vividly to life. Together with a tightly constructed narrative, expertly translated by Peter Graves, The Murderer’s Ape is a scintillating and compelling read.
An added attraction of this novel are the striking and atmospheric black and while illustrations that set the scene for each chapter together with the portraits of the main characters at the front of the book. So few novels for older readers have illustrations today and these appear to hark back to a bygone age reminiscent of a Dickens novel with their etching-like quality making the novel appear like a long lost classic recently discovered.
The Murderer’s Ape is a truly exceptional novel and one that will indelibly be etched in your memory for a long time to come.
Winner of the Mildred L. Batchelder Award 2018