The Hidden Keys by André Alexis
The Hidden Keys moves with the confidence of a writer on form
Tancred Palmieri is a gifted thief. Willow Azarian – a heroin addict and the daughter of late billionaire Robert Azarian – finds Tancred in a bar, and gives him a quest. Her father gave each of his children a gift before he died, and Willow believes that together these gifts hold clues to a secret inheritance. All Tancred has to do is steal them from their various high-security homes, solve the puzzle, and give the objects back.
There’s a cast of all kinds of oddball characters. Aside from a thief with morals and an addict with millions, we meet an albino drug dealer, a thoughtful detective, a skilled and pragmatic artist, and watch as their lives interlink in the streets and homes of Toronto. At its core, this is a treasure hunt adventure with a sprinkling of slapstick violence.
André Alexis won Canada’s most prestigious prize for fiction for his previous novel, Fifteen Dogs, and The Hidden Keys moves with the confidence of a writer on form. The characters have the emotional drive to give their actions credibility, and it’s a treat to find an authentic puzzle at the heart of a novel. There’s some well-handled structural playfulness of the sort you’d find in a good cinematic farce too. Weaving the intrigue and lure of a puzzle into a wider narrative means the pace can drop off at unexpected moments – but it’s worth it, to balance the urgency of solving the mystery with developing the broader themes at play. [Galen O'Hanlon]
Tuskar Rock, 7 Jun, £8.99