Take note, propagandists of all kinds: if you want to preach, make your parable as charming as Durrell has made this droll item--a lark of a farce (reminiscent of Terry-Thomas and the Boulting Bros.) which just happens to advance the cause of wildlife preservation. Fledgling diplomat Peter Foxglove is sent to the Asian isle of Zenkali, a blissfully backward spot on the eve of self-government: he's the new assistant to wise, sly Hannibal Oliphant, political advisor to ""Kingy,"" the island's cheerful, England-educated ruler. But Peter arrives--after a shaky journey from Djakarta--to find the island in the midst of turmoil: the British want to build a military base and airstrip on Zenkali, and Kingy's corrupt Minister of Development is all set to sell off the valley in question for personal profit. Peter himself is soon on the side of the antiairstrippers--after comely Audrey (daughter of the boozy local newspaper-editor) shows him around the island, introducing him to a crew of eccentric clergy-persons, brothel madams, anthropologists, and botanists. But there's not much Peter can do about the airstrip deal. . . until he and Audrey, on a pastoral stroll, discover a secret valley full of rare trees and even rarer ""mockery birds""--both of which are sacred items in the religion of one of the island's two major tribes. So: naturalists start flocking to Zenkali; that vile Minister of Development will do anything (even kidnap Audrey) to learn the valley's secret location; Kingy is forced to choose between the airstrip (whose building will destroy the trees and birds via flooding) and his natural resources; religious riots break out, with one tribe jealous of the other's suddenly rediscovered gods. And the clincher comes when the isle's resident scientist demonstrates that the mockery birds and Ombu trees are essential in the chain-of-life that supports the island's only money-crop. Pleasant folderol--with enough chortle-worthy dialogue to zip readers (Anglophilic ones, anyway) right along to Durrell's un-controversial, sprucely dramatizcd message.