Friday, April 12, 2013

Forgotten Book: Death in Cyprus by M.M. Kaye

For a long time I knew of M.M. Kaye only as a writer of historical romances like The Far Pavillions, and The Shadow of the Moon. I had no idea that she had penned a series of murder mysteries set in exotic locales. In 2010, I read one of them - Death in Kashmir. The story with its evocative atmosphere, and its brooding melancholy regarding a way of life passing away right in front of one's eyes struck a chord. The mystery was terrific too. Since then, I had been trying to get my hands on other books in the series. Thus, I was delighted to pick up Death in Cyprus from a library.



Amanda Derington, who has but recently emerged from under the thumb of her over-bearing guardian, Oswin Derington, decides to visit Cyprus. Accompanying her on the voyage from Fayid in Egypt to Aphrodite's island is a motley group consisting of Captain Toby Gates, a young man who has fallen in love with her; Persis Halleday; a best-selling writer of romances; Julia Blaine, a neurotic middle-aged woman who suspects her husband Major Alastair Blaine of infidelity; the Normans-Claire and George, who are related to the Blains and with whom the latter would be staying in Cyprus. Also on the ship are Lumley Potter, who pretends to be an artist and his companion Anita with whom the Blains and the Normans are acquainted and who is quite the scarlett woman right down to the lip-paint that she applies so liberally on her mouth.

Things go awry right from the beginning. Julia Blaine gets steadily agitated at Clair's flirting with her husband who himself seems to be getting steadily drunk. A hysterical Julia comes to Amanda's cabin to complain about her husband. A concerned Amanda asks her to take an aspirin which Julia does and then dramatically collapses right in front of her. A distraught Amanda goes calling for help and runs into Steve Howard, a painter she had been introduced earlier in Fayid. Howard helps her but his efficient actions belie the fact that he is merely a painter interested in painting the ruins of Cyprus.

The crushed and subdued party reaches Cyprus where Amanda takes her leave from them as she has to stay in another city with the Bartons as Glenn Barton is the manager of her uncle's firm at Cyprus. Glenn, however, seems to have troubles of his own. His wife is unwell, he says, would Amanda mind staying with a friend of his, the appropriately named, Miss Moon. No trouble at all as Amanda is more than happy to stay in that fairy-tale house.

But then another death occurs... and this time there is no doubt that it is murder. So who among this small circle of English expatriates is the murderer?

Unlike Death in Kashmir where I could not guess the identity of the criminal master-mind, here I could guess who the murderer was but that did not take away moments that chilled me to the bone:

She began to count the steps - four - five - six - seven. Then all at once she stopped, and stood frozen and still.

There was someone on the stairs behind her. She was quite sure of it. She listened intently, every nerve strained and alert, but she could only hear the muffled music of the gramophone two floors above her. There could not be anyone on the stairs behind her! it had only been an echo - or imagination. She must go on - eight - nine - ten - (114-115)

or

She began to write, aware as she did so that the scratching of the pen sounded astonishingly loud in the quiet room. But she was not alone in the room. It was not a suspicion but a certainty. There was someone else in the room besides herself. Someone was hidden there...

An ornately framed looking-glass that hung above the writing table reflected another and similar mirror on the  opposite wall, and Amanda could see herself in it; endlessly repeated. A long line of slender, frightened girls standing in a dim, silvery corridor in the dusk.

But it reflected something else as well. Something that lay beyond the range of her vision, though not beyond the compass of that glimmering oval. A hand -  (161-162).



  After finishing the book and re-reading certain scenes, I could only marvel at the consummate skill of the writer. Much recommended, the only thing that I found jarring were a few typos. Surprising since the publisher is Penguin.



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First Line: Amanda had not been really frightened until she found the bottle. Horrified certainly: shaken by incredulity and shock, but not with fear. Not with this cold, crawling apprehension of evil...

Title: Death in Cyprus

Alternate Title: Death Walked in Cyprus

Author: M.M. Kaye

Publication Details: Middlesex: Penguin, 1985

Originally Published: 1956

Pages: 271

Other Books read of the Same Author: Death in Kashmir

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Both old and new copies of the book can be purchased on the net. I borrowed it from HM Library at Fountain. [F.K 156]

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Submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Mystery/ Crime, 2013 Women, British Books, European Reading, Let me Count the Ways, Library Books, Vintage Mystery, What Countries Have I Visited.

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Submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books



6 comments:

  1. Neer - Oh, I'd forgotten about Kaye. You're right; most people don't think of her as a crime writer but she did do some crime fiction. Thanks for reminding me and I'm glad you enjoyed this one.

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    1. Even I had no idea Margot till I chanced upon Death in Kashmir. Now of course, I am keen to read the entire series.

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  2. The only Kaye I've read was The Far Pavilions at a friend's urging. I found it overlong and too reliant on an understanding of, and sympathy for, the history of the British in India. Consequently, I never investigated her other writing.

    But this sounds marvelous - I will have to try to dig one of these mysteries up. Thanks for letting us know about them!

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    1. Hi Debbie

      I usually avoid any British writing on the revolt of 1857 because Indians are depicted as blood-thirsty brutes. I was wary of reading Kaye because of that but both her mysteries are excellent and am looking forward to reading more of the series. I hope you find them quickly. Looking forward to your views on them.

      Thanks for the visit. Hope you come again.

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  3. I too only know Kaye from THE FAR PAVILIONS so thanks very much for the detailed reviews Neer, much appreciated.

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    1. Thanks Sergio but these reviews pale in comparison with your excellent ones.

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