Mr. Malik is a “short, round, balding brown man”–a sixty-something widower with a comb-over. After his wife’s death, on his doctor’s advice, he picked up a hobby: birds. Every Tuesday morning, he joins the East African Ornithological Society bird walk, led by Rose Mbikwa, Scottish widow of a Nairobi politician. Mr. Malik most definitely has a (quiet) crush on Ms. Mbikwa.
One Tuesday, the showy and good-looking Harry Khan, Mr. Malik’s former classmate, shows up at the bird walk. And eventually, it is revealed (over Tuskers at the Asadi Club with their friends) that each man intends to invite the lovely Ms. Mbikwa to the Nairobi Hunt Club Ball. The Asadi Club gentlemen think it’s quite unfair to make Ms. Mbikwa choose between two invitations, so a competition is proposed and quickly agreed upon: the man who sees the most new species of birds during the following week will get first dibs, as it were. Rules are established, bets are placed, and they’re off to count birds. Hijinks ensue. (And Mr. Malik, as earnest and honest as he is, has some secrets that might come to light over the course of the week…)
Sounds like it could be dull, right? 60-year-old ornithologists counting birds in Nairobi because of a bet over an annual expat dance? And to some readers it probably is. (In many reviews, it’s favorably compared to the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency, a series I actually find quite dull myself.)
But Drayson keeps this one pretty darn charming, because, of course, it’s not just about birds. It’s about cautious love, age, politics, and the weird world of expats in Africa. Drayson has an endearing way of breaking the fourth wall when he describes Nairobi, or the types of weathered expats make up the Asadi Club’s regulars, or a particularly goofy looking bird. He clearly loves both Nairobi and birds. And he writes his characters with insight and tenderness.
This an unexpected PG-rated romance that gives every character a fair shake.
Edit to add: It also has nice little sketches of birds at the beginning of each page! I imagine Mr. Malik making these careful sketches, which is all the more charming.