Giller Prize winner André Alexis’s contemporary take on the quest narrative is an instant classic.
Parkdale’s Green Dolphin is a bar of ill repute, and it is there that Tancred Palmieri, a thief with elegant and erudite tastes, meets Willow Azarian, an aging heroin addict. She reveals to Tancred that her very wealthy father has recently passed away, leaving each of his five children a mysterious object that provides one clue to the whereabouts of a large inheritance. Willow enlists Tancred to steal these objects from her siblings and help her solve the puzzle.
A Japanese screen, a painting that plays music, a bottle of aquavit, a framed poem and a model of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater: Tancred is lured in to this beguiling quest, and even though Willow dies before the puzzle is solved, he presses on.
As he tracks down the treasure, he must enlist the help of Alexander von Wurfel, conceptual artist and taxidermist to the wealthy, and fend off Willow’s heroin dealers, a young albino named ‘N****r’ Colby and his sidekick, Sigismund ‘Freud’ Luxemburg, a clubfooted psychopath, both of whom are eager to get their hands on this supposed pot of gold. And he must mislead Detective Daniel Mandelshtam, his most adored friend.
Inspired by a reading of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, The Hidden Keys questions what it means to be honorable, what it means to be faithful and what it means to sin.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
You don’t have to like puzzles to be engrossed by this twisted yarn. André Alexis’s third novel in a planned five-part project spotlights a wonderfully weird cast of characters who embark on a mission to find out how a series of inherited objects lead to a large sum of money. Alexis—winner of the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize—modernises the classic quest novel with a hyper-real vision of Toronto and dense, clever dialogue. It’s all delightfully odd, which isn’t that surprising given that the author's last novel (Fifteen Dogs) involved conniving talking dogs.
Giller Prize winner Alexis (Fifteen Dogs, Childhood) brings sharp observation and emotional depth to the traditional quest narrative in this fine novel. Tancred Palmieri is a thief in present day Toronto with a chivalric code whose life is thrown out of whack when he meets rich, drug-addicted Willow Azarian. Willow quickly reveals the story of her father's fortune and a secret puzzle left to his children. She then asks Tancred to help her steal the clues that her father bequeathed to each of her siblings so that they might find the treasure he has left behind. Tancred soon learns that not all quests are as simple as they seem at first. During his journey, he comes into contact with an assortment of strange but never unbelievable characters, including and an English taxidermist who's adopted a German persona. In helping Willow, however, Tancred might just find himself coming up against the person who is closest to him his best friend, Det. Daniel Mandelstahm. This gorgeously written, funny adventure tale will keep readers up finishing it while also quietly breaking their hearts with Alexis's keen observations of people, kindness, and cruelty.