Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius




I took out Morro’s silver locket and showed it to Ana and Signor Fidardo. Then João patiently told them the whole story, from Elisa Gomes’s tragic death to the arrival of the letter containing the money the seaman had brought all the way from the Far East. Ana and Signor Fidardo had many questions, all of which João answered to the best of his ability. 

Meanwhile it was getting late in the afternoonand the tall cypresses in the cemetery were throwing long shadows across the rows of gravestones and crosses. We said goodbye to João and walked towards the tram stop. 

Ana was just as happy and eager as I was.

‘The police never found Alphonse Morro’s body,’ she said. 

(The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius. P149.)


Sally Jones is a gorilla with a typewriter, determined to put the truth into words. Her friend Koskela is imprisoned for a murder he did not commit when Morro apparently drowns. Sally Jones is forced into hiding when an order goes out that ‘the murder’s ape’ should be taken to the zoo. With the help of her new friends, Ana Molina and Signor Fidardo, Sally Jones investigates the truth.

The only clues are a locket, with pictures of the victim and his deceased sweetheart Elisa, and the circumstances of Elisa’s death. When money arrives from the Far East, to pay for the upkeep of Elisa’s grave, Sally Jones sets out on a great adventure. There are people who would rather she didn’t learn the truth. Can she free Koskela before she comes to harm herself?breakbirdReview:

A globe-trotting adventure of a book which has won praise in the field of international children’s literature. Written and illustrated by Jakob Wegelius, enjoyment of the story is enhanced by the charming line drawings, which bring the characters and setting to life.

The story unfolds slowly, but this is to its merit, as there is so much to savour. It reminded me of Around The World In Eighty Days – I was intrigued by the mystery set up in the early pages, but more than anything I wanted to take in the period of time which Wegelius brings so satisfyingly to life. It is like a collage of everything you might want to experience in the time period: from vintage accordions to opera, steamboats to early aviation, to the palace of a particularly opulent Maharajah. Sally Jones’s role as an engineer and seaman gives her flexibility to travel the globe. Holding the book was like holding the world in my hands.

I loved the characters, Sally Jones particularly. She is so loyal to Koskela, and determined to get him out of trouble despite the danger to herself. The book contains a huge cast of memorable characters. Even the minor characters stuck in my mind. Think of His Dark Materials. Many of the minor characters are worthy of a trilogy, and I can see this inspiring people to write their own stories. 

They say you shouldn’t write about animals. It’s one of those tidbits of lore which gets bantered around by aspiring scribblers. Like The Wildings, and Watership Down, The Murder’s Ape proves that if you can do it well, you can do anything. Wegelius gets a good balance between anthropomorphising Sally Jones, and respecting her animal characteristics. Her story line and character are written for humans, so follow human concerns, but she bares her teeth at rogues and scrambles up to hide on the rooftops when need-be, and always fears imprisonment by humans.

 As well as being a great story which takes in the world, the book as an object is a thing of beauty. The illustrations are a perfect style for the time in which the story is set, and I love the maps on the inner covers which follow Sally Jones’s journey. Light the log fire, and settle in for a long evening’s read. A real classic.


Huge thanks to Pushkin Press for sending my copy. This does not affect the honesty of my review.

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