NATIONAL POST 99 BEST BOOKS OF 2016
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, meetsWillow 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 islured 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 ‘Nigger’ 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.
André Alexis was born in Trinidad and grew up in Canada. His most recent novel, Fifteen Dogs, won the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. His debut novel, Childhood, won the Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Trillium Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and the Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. His other books include Pastoral (nominated for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize), Asylum, Beauty and Sadness, Ingrid & the Wolf, Despair and Other Stories of Ottawa and Lambton, Kent and Other Vistas: A Play.
‘Even though the book is an old-fashioned quest yarn, Alexis’s immense talent gives it an archetypal patina, glossing characters with shades of honor and subtlety that might have been missed in lesser hands.’
– Kirkus Reviews
‘It is difficult to convey how gracefully Alexis is able to conjure such baroque minutia without slipping into mannered excess. Just as it is difficult to convey Alexis’s way of avoiding the trappings of genre while offering, in this case, all the essential pleasures of a crime novel: The Hidden Keys is somewhat akin to Elmore Leonard in its attention to idiosyncratic personal style and providing even minor players with active inner lives.’
– The Globe and Mail
‘A witty, punchy, loquacious novel … Fun, propulsive reading that really is about the hunt, not the treasure.’
— Library Journal
‘Though Tancred contains multitudes, one of Alexis’s best tricks involves diverging from his hero’s point of view to introduce a whole host of peripheral figures … Nobody is a mere archetype in Alexis’s universe, and far from digressions (or generic concessions), these subplots suggest the humane, egalitarian sensibility of a writer who’s reluctant to simply instrumentalize his characters.’
– Quill & Quire
‘Alexis is a literary cartographer of the highest calibre and The Hidden Keys should be book-marked on everyone’s map.’
– Hamilton Review of Books
‘[An] intellectual adventure yarn … Great fun.’
– The Wall Street Journal
‘Alexis shapes his mash-up of ancient tropes and ironic flicks into a wonderful story about fate and family, mainly by peopling it with characters who are simultaneously archetypes and believable individuals. And the puzzle is pretty good, too.’
‘The mystery itself does not disappoint, though the events that lead up to the reveal are as much of a gift as the endpoint itself. This unique adventure is a joyful and intelligent undertaking.’
‘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.’
– Publishers Weekly, starred review
‘André Alexis did not rest on his laurels after winning the Giller … The Hidden Keys brings to the forefront all the wit, grit, and talent we have come to expect from the reigning Canadian Fiction champ.’
– Libraire Drawn & Quarterly Book of the Week on Largehearted Boy