Malarkey's debut has the elements of a romance novel—chiseled hero, headstrong heroine, tropical island—but its curiosity about love, both Eros and agape, raises it a teeny notch above formula fiction..
Ingrid Holtz, beautiful anthropology grad student, is intellectually smitten with enigmatic Professor Nick Templeton, though it isn't clear to her whether her interest is due to his intriguing theory that Islam was brought to Africa centuries earlier than thought or whether it's because she sees in him a potential stand-in father. (Ingrid is all but an orphan: her mother died before Ingrid could remember her, and though her father, a physics-professor, survived a lightning strike, it's clear from our one meeting with him that his paternity electrons got seriously rejiggered.) Templeton, as story opens, has gone missing, and Ingrid, just back from Egypt, gets a grant to pursue him—and his theory—on an island off the coast of Kenya. This is a place that functions, at least in Malarkey's construction, as a kind of curriculum-free university for debauched whites who are served by a staff of natives, themselves not exempt from the debauchery. The faculty, if there's one at all, consists of a few wise souls, white and non-, while at the center of all is the Salama Hotel, a sparkling institution whose main purpose is to serve alcohol round-the-clock and provide a tidy place for the debauchery to thrive. Templeton, however, is nowhere to be found: he's as elusive as smoke, though everyone knows him. To allay her frustration and boredom, Ingrid drinks in midday and pursues Finn Bergmann, only son of the hotel's late creator and almost too attractive to believe: a Swedish Fabio who's as enigmatic as Ingrid is an open book.
Uninspired, sometimes plain clunky prose, but, as the story’s mysteries unfold, Malarkey raises intriguing questions about the actions that passions drive us to—with profound or searing consequences.