Sometime last month, Fiat.Luxury posted a CBR review of Nicholas Drayson’s A Guide to the Birds of East Africa and I was intrigued. As an unashamed lover of all things Alexander McCall Smith, I thought this book sounded charming and gentle–a necessary antidote to the gritty things I typically read.
Mr. Malik is a sixty-something Indian expat to Kenya, and he is secretly in love with Rose Mbikwa, a widow who runs the weekly meeting of the East African Ornithological Society. Mr. Malik’s old nemesis, Harry Khan, rolls into town and sets his eyes on Mrs. Mbikwa, as well. And thus a bet is born: whoever sees the most birds within the week wins the chance to ask Mrs. Mbikwa to the annual Nairobi Hunt Club Ball. Several hijinks emerge, including stolen cars, secrets, and worry about one man outdoing the other. Mr. Malik seems like a quiet and gentle man, but he has a number of surprising secrets that can endanger the enterprise, as well as his own safety.
At first, I was a little unimpressed with the tone–it felt McCall Smith-lite and not in a good way. But then one of Mr. Malik’s secrets was revealed, and I started *bawling.* No lie. The ensuing poignancy of Mr. Malik’s narrative won me over, and I was on board for the rest of the novel. Drayson is not as good or as nuanced a writer as Smith, in my opinion, yet I feel that the novel picked up speed, especially towards the end. I am very glad that I read it, and I even learned a few things about birds, too!