Death in Kashmir by M. M. Kaye

Death in Kashmir I have always thought of M. M. Kaye as an author of historical novels (such as the wonderful Far Pavilions) and although I was vaguely aware that she had also written a series of mystery novels, I had never really thought about reading them. Now that I’ve read the first one, Death in Kashmir, I will certainly be reading the others. What a great book this is!

Death in Kashmir was first published in 1953, but set a few years earlier in 1947, just as India is about to gain independence from Britain. Our heroine, Sarah Parrish, is attending what will probably be the final meeting of the Ski Club of India at Gulmarg, a resort in the mountains of Kashmir. Sarah is hoping for an enjoyable, relaxing holiday but the first sign of trouble ahead comes when another skier has a fatal accident on the slopes. Another death soon follows the first, but this time, the victim – a young woman called Janet Rushton – was able to share an important secret with Sarah before she died.

Sarah is now certain that neither death was accidental but all she wants is to leave Gulmarg and its secrets behind her and have nothing more to do with the whole business. When the skiing party breaks up she visits her aunt in Peshawar and tries to forget what she has learned. Soon, though, her promise to Janet pulls her back to Kashmir where she finds herself caught up in the mission her friend was working on before her death – and this time, Sarah’s own life could be in danger.

I loved this book from the very beginning. It’s so important that a first chapter pulls you straight into the story and this one did, right from the opening line – “Afterwards Sarah could never be quite sure whether it was the moonlight or that soft, furtive sound that had awakened her”. The rest of the story was equally engrossing: a perfect mixture of mystery, suspense, romance and espionage.

The descriptions of Kashmir are stunning. The first part of the book is set in winter on the snow-covered mountain trails of Gulmarg and later the action moves to the Dal Lake in the summer resort of Srinagar where Sarah takes over the lease on a houseboat that once belonged to Janet. Both of these locations are described beautifully, but Kaye also chooses just the right words and images to create a genuinely eerie and unsettling atmosphere. I found myself literally holding my breath as Sarah wondered who was standing outside the ski lodge in the dark, as she watched an unknown figure disappearing up a staircase and as she listened to footsteps on the boards of her houseboat in the night.

What makes Sarah’s situation even more dangerous is that she’s sure the enemy must be one of the group of skiers who were gathered at Gulmarg – the same group who are all now spending the summer in Srinagar. Who should she trust? The hostile Helen Warrender who makes no secret of her dislike for Sarah? The jovial, good-natured Hugo and his long-suffering wife, Fudge? Timid Meril Forbes and her domineering aunt? Or the handsome, polo-playing Captain Charles Mallory? When the villain was eventually revealed it didn’t come as a complete surprise – but I have to admit I had suspected almost everybody at some point, so one of my guesses was bound to be right!

The book is also interesting from the historical viewpoint, being set just before the end of the British Raj and the transfer of powers back to India. Through the stories of Sarah and the rest of the British community in Kashmir, I thought Kaye had perfectly captured the mood of a group of people who knew that their way of life was about to change forever.

I’m now looking forward to reading the other five Death In… mysteries. I just need to decide which one to read next!

29 thoughts on “Death in Kashmir by M. M. Kaye

  1. Lark says:

    I love Death in Kashmir! M.M. Kaye’s mysteries are so much fun. The only one I like even better is Death in Cyprus. I think that’s my favorite. And Death in Zanzibar is a close third. (I think I like these books as much for their exotic settings as for their mysteries; I’ve always wanted to travel to all these places, but I don’t have the money to actually go, so I have to travel by book.)

    • Helen says:

      I have been to Berlin but not to any of the other places in the titles. Travelling by book is the next best thing to actually going! I’ll look forward to Death in Cyprus and Death in Zanzibar. 🙂

  2. Treva says:

    I’m a huge fan of M.M. Kaye’s mysteries. They all capture the sense of time & place – in particular “Death in Berlin” with the the brooding menace of a broken, occupied Germany immediately after WW2.

    • Helen says:

      I was so impressed with the way she captured the time and place in this book, so I’m pleased to hear the others are the same. I really like the sound of Death in Berlin.

    • Helen says:

      I should read mysteries more often, as I usually enjoy them – particularly older ones like this. I can’t wait to read the others in the series.

  3. Lisa says:

    I have only read The Far Pavilions. I really like the sound of her mysteries, especially Death in Berlin, which Treva mentions above. More for the reading list!

    • Helen says:

      This book was quite different from the historical novels but I found it just as enjoyable in its own way. I would definitely recommend trying this one.

  4. Alex says:

    Kaye is a writer I keep meaning to find time for and if there are mysteries in the offing then that is all the more reason to do so. I hope they are easily available.

    • Helen says:

      I read The Far Pavilions as a teenager and loved it, but for some reason it never occurred to me to explore her other books. All six of the mysteries are available as ebooks but I’m not sure about physical books – it could be a case of having to look for secondhand copies.

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad you still enjoyed them on a re-read. I was so impressed with this one and am looking forward to the others – I think I’m probably going to read Death in Berlin next.

  5. thehouseai says:

    These are books from my youth. her exotic locales were on my bucket list. I have the whole 6 book series, and this one in particular stayed with me – those houseboats. I recently read a post on Messy Nessy Chic about them, and some historical photos from the late 1980s and earlier that captured them as they were. They say that unless something turns around the houseboats will be gone in less than 20 years. They are still for rent, and look beautiful, although old.

    • Helen says:

      I loved the parts of this book set on the houseboats…so atmospheric. It’s sad to think that they could be gone in 20 years. I must read the other books in this series soon!

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