THE HIDDEN KEYS by André Alexis


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A smooth criminal is persuaded to investigate a complex riddle left as a strange inheritance to a junkie in Toronto.

Prizewinning Canadian novelist Alexis (Fifteen Dogs, 2015, etc.) offers up a wry and intriguing adventure in this caper novel loosely inspired by Treasure Island. The book’s dashing young protagonist is an old soul at heart—Tancred Palmieri is an unabashed thief we first meet musing over the fate of a purloined diamond as he imbibes in The Green Dolphin, your traditional hive of villainy. At the bar, he’s approached by 50-something drug addict Willow Azarian, who spins a family fable. Her wealthy father, besides leaving millions in inheritance, left Willow and each of her siblings an iconic memento. These included a framed poem, a painting of the Emperor Nero, a bottle of liqueur, a reproduction of a famous Japanese silkscreen, and a model of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, a home in rural Pennsylvania. Willow asks the dashing thief to steal and investigate the mementos to see where they lead. Spoiler alert: Willow dies of her addictions, but Tancred decides to carry out her mission anyway: he may be a thief but his code won’t allow him to break promises. It’s a wonderfully strange premise and one that plays out well on the page. With the help of his “Sancho Panza,” Ollie, and a geriatric taxidermist named Alexander von Wurfel, Palmieri begins stealing and deciphering the clues left by the deceased tycoon. Complications arise when gang lord John Armberg muscles in on Palmieri’s quest, sending an albino thug named Error Colby and his clubfooted sidekick, Sigismund “Freud” Luxemburg, to track his progress. Hot on everyone’s tail is police detective Daniel Mandelshtam, a friend of Palmieri’s since childhood. Even though the book is an old-fashioned quest yarn, Alexis’ immense talent gives it an archetypal patina, glossing characters with shades of honor and subtlety that might have been missed in lesser hands.

A wry and reflective literary puzzle about family, love, honor, and adventure.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-55245-325-4
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Coach House Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2016


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