Just because it amuses me to lump a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in with Clive Cussler, I’m posting these three short reviews together. They were all written (well, two pending) for InMadrid, a free English-language newspaper whose editor has graciously failed to object to their reprinting, in order of my appreciation, here.
A Guide to the Birds of East Africa, Nicholas Drasyon
During the popular weekly bird walks through Nairobi, the charmingly shy Mr. Malik has watched lovely ornithologist Rose Mbikwa from afar when he should have been concentrating on other birds; but, after years of longing, just when he is finally ready to act on his desires, the return of his annoyingly dashing old school friend Harry Kahn seems to have snatched her out from under his nose. Only an equally old school contest can decide which of them will win the girl’s hand – even if only for an evening.
Without once leaving the borders of Kenya Mr. Malik’s adventure exposes us to love, lust, nature and the city, generosity and selfishness, heart-wrenching regret and heartfelt sympathy, armed robbery, state-sanctioned murder, political satire, religious disenfranchisement (of clothing), grand theft auto, kidnapping and banditry, military justice, legal chicanery, a little bit of harmless deceit and a whole lot of unshakable honour. Oh, and a touch of bird watching. Drayson does for Kenya what The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency did for Botswana, painting it with affectionate humour and warmth. A Guide to the Birds of East Africa may be as light as a feather, but like its hero it is also desperately sweet.
A Mercy, by Toni Morrison
Following the fate of Florens, a young but literate slave girl traded away from her mother, A Mercy presents a short but darkly moving glimpse of life in 17th Century America. Joining an unusually liberal “family” of individuals, the potential threats of the presumed savage natives, apparently civil society and disease become background concerns as Florens grows, urgently seeking love to fill an emptiness created by the great upheaval in her childhood – but her naïve desires highlight the perilously unstable foundation all their lives are based upon.
Toni Morrison examines the various hypocrisies made concrete by the emigration of European social and religious values and their imposition upon peoples they were alien to, but on the whole she observes the action with an air of emotional detachment that keeps us at arm’s length. The narrative switches frequently between Florens’ maybe too consciously stylised first-person voice and third-person chapters following other people of her world, scattering the focus somewhat. Ultimately the brevity of the story is a relief, as A Mercy manages to be both light and heavy at the same time, but Morrison’s prose is lyrical and in it she achieves a readable mix of the stark and the rich.
Medusa, by Clive Cussler (with Paul Kemprecos)
In timely fashion, an influenza pandemic threatens the world, evil Triads are waiting to sabotage our one chance for survival and only one man and his flippers can save the day. Clive Cussler sets a familiar course for his thirty-eighth outing and, depending on your point of view, he either continues to or doesn’t disappoint. His is a world where men are real men, all women are beautiful and nautical intrigues or potential global catastrophes lurk beyond every wave. Medusa ticks the usual boxes: vaguely homoerotic high seas adventure, with laborious detail of all things maritime; repetitively repetitive determination to clarify quite simple plotting; very silly surnames; and, most importantly, a rugged, blue-eyed unstoppable hero with a Hispanic lothario sidekick. The action comes thick and fast just like in the movie serials of old, and while his heroes and their escapades don’t reach the heights of an Indiana Jones this is definitely what Cussler aims for, thrills and spills with not too much thinking required. If you are already a fan, or are tempted by Dan Brown but get the feeling that his stories are a little too grounded in reality for you, Medusa will probably float your boat. Matey.
In case it wasn’t clear, it’s the Clive Cussler one that I’m calling “terrible”…