A whacky and whimsical wager

2008-12-24 00:00

THE subtitle of this book is: A Novel. Sensible, otherwise the title might be misleading. But it is all part of the slightly wacky, whimsical tone of Nicholas Drayson’s tale. The story is set in Nairobi, and concerns the fortunes of Mr Malik, which is how he is referred to throughout. Mr Malik is a widower and a semi-retired businessman. He also has a secret, but that only comes to light later on.

In fact, he has two. The one that gives the novel its main plot is that he is in love with Rose Mbikwa, the leader of the regular Ornithological Society Tuesday bird walk. He has never told her of his love, content to worship from afar. But then nemesis arrives in the form of Harry Khan. He and Mr Malik are old enemies from their schooldays, and Harry is not one for secret passions — he comes on the bird walk, and makes an obvious play for Rose. It is enough to stir Mr Malik out of his lethargy, with potentially disastrous results.

Both men want to take her to the annual hunt ball — and the only way to decide who will do so seems to be a wager — which of them can spot the most birds in a week. Mr Malik knows more about birds, but Harry knows a lot more about dirty tricks. And so battle is joined.

It is a lively, entertaining novel, if a little insubstantial. The humour is gentle, although a slight archness of tone did grate on me from time to time. But apart from that, it offers cheerful, feel-good entertainment for the holiday period.

Margaret von Klemperer

• A Guide to the Birds of East Africa is on the Exclusive Books List for 2008.

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