Mystery author #27: MM Kaye

Title: Death in the Andamans
Year of publication: 1960
Type of mystery: Murder, whodunnit, romance
Type of investigator: Amateurs
Setting & time: The Andaman Islands, 1950s

Story: Copper Randall is visiting her friend in the Andaman Islands. On Christmas Day they attend a picnic and they and the guests barely escape over to the small island where they live, before a tropical storm hits the islands. Some of the guests end up in the sea on the way there and one of them goes missing, later to be found dead on the beach with a suspicious head wound. When another man is found dead, clearly murdered, fear sweeps through the group and the young people, Copper, her friend and their love interests, begin to investigate the deaths.

Review: This is an entertaining little "limited location" mystery where the possible killer is one of a small group of people who are stuck in one place, thus giving the amateur investigators time to solve the case without the intervention of the police.

Rating: A suspenseful romantic mystery in the tradition of the Golden Era. 3 stars.

Title: Death in Zanzibar
Year of publication:1959
Type of mystery: Murder, thriller, romance
Type of investigator: Amateurs
Setting & time: Zanzibar, 1950s

Story: Young and innocent Dany Ashton becomes entangled in a murder case when she agrees to carry a letter from a solicitor in London to her stepfather in Zanzibar. Along the way, she become romantically interested in two young men, both of them somewhat mysterious, and finds herself dogged by an unseen killer who seems to be trying to pin 2 murders on her.

Review: This is more of a thriller than a mystery, as the crime really solves itself in the end, but there is still a fair amount of investigating (mostly conjecturing) by some of the characters. There is hidden treasure (the story of which is apparently included in one of Kaye's historical novels, Trade Wind), romantic intrigue and politics involved, which makes for fair entertainment. One minor annoyance is a scientific plot device that doesn't work, but as it would have worked back at the time of writing and takes place after the crime is solved, I am not going to let it affect my rating of the story.

Rating: An entertaining romantic mystery thriller, set in exotic Zanzibar. 3 stars.

Author review: MM Kaye wrote a series of romantic mysteries/thrillers that all have in common that they take place in exotic locations, like Cyprus, the Andaman Islands, Zanzibar and Kasmir. Additionally, she wrote some historical novels, the most famous of which was The Far Pavillions. As the wife of a career army officer she had the opportunity to visit far-flung corners of the globe and she used some of those locations as the setting for her mysteries, and the landscapes and people sometimes feature as plot devices in the books.

Kaye's heroines always seem to be young, beautiful, innocent and inexperienced, while the men are older, more experienced and irresistably attractive to women. In Dany Ashton's case her innocence and inexperience borders on stupidity, but at least Kaye is aware of it and has a couple of the other characters joke about it. The stories can, for this reason, be classified as "damsel in distress" stories, at least those two can. Kaye's use, in these two books, of what is basically the same formula (limited and exotic location, small group of suspects, red herrings aplenty, the heroine stumbling on the truth and being rescued from the killer at the last moment, love forever after) is cleverly used and thankfully she can write characters that have character, so that there is no danger of the reader confusing, for example, Dany and Copper, or the two killers when the memory of the two stories begins to fade and blend. This does not change the fact that the feminist in me strongly objects to women being shown as helpless and so innocent that they seem to have been wrapped in cotton all their lives, but I find that in cases such as these, when the rest of the cast, the setting and plot all have merit, a little suspension of disbelief and annoyance is in order.

Kaye's style is deft and the plots flow well and the stories are very readable. Both books are good, undemanding entertainment, perfect for the beach or an airplane ride. I will not be rushing out to buy all of her books, but I will definitely be reading more of them if the chance presents itself.


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