Death in Berlin by M.M. Kaye

Death in Berlin Almost exactly a year ago I read Death in Kashmir, the first in M.M. Kaye’s series of mystery novels. I loved it – in fact, it was one of my favourite books of the year – and last week I decided it was time to try another of her Death in… novels. I chose Death in Berlin because it’s the second in the series (although the books all have different settings and characters and all stand alone).

Death in Berlin, published in 1955, is set in a Berlin struggling to recover from the devastating effects of World War II. The city is divided into zones – American, British, French and Russian – and there are ruined buildings and piles of rubble everywhere. At the beginning of the novel we meet Miranda Brand, who is on her way to Berlin with her cousin Robert and his wife Stella. Robert, an army officer, is taking up a new post there and Miranda has decided to come along for a month’s holiday, keen to have a chance to see post-war Germany. During the journey to Berlin, they and a group of other military families listen to Brigadier Brindley tell a story involving a set of diamonds stolen by the Nazis during the war – a story which has special significance for Miranda. Later that night, the Brigadier is found dead in his train compartment and when a murder investigation begins, Miranda discovers that she herself could be a suspect.

This novel has many of the same elements as Death in Kashmir – a young heroine in danger far from home, a romance with a man she’s not sure she can trust, an eerie and atmospheric setting – but this book didn’t impress me as much as the first one. It doesn’t have the stunning opening chapter that Death in Kashmir has and the characters feel less developed, to the point where I had trouble telling some of them apart. I also thought there was a lack of chemistry between Miranda and her love interest, whom I found very bland.

What I did like was the portrayal of a ruined Berlin in the aftermath of war. M.M. Kaye herself spent some time in Berlin when her husband’s regiment was stationed there, so she could draw on her own knowledge of the city while writing this novel. While it isn’t the exotic setting that 1940s Kashmir is, it does provide a great backdrop for a story of murder and mystery. Kaye really excels at creating a sense of unease and writing spine-tingling descriptions of what it feels like to be alone and vulnerable in dark, lonely surroundings – to be the only person awake in the sleeper carriage of an overnight train or to be sitting downstairs in a large, empty house and hear noises coming from upstairs.

I didn’t guess the solution to the mystery, but I did have my suspicions about various characters. I don’t think it would have been possible to work out everything, though, because a lot of information is withheld from us until the final chapters of the book. This information is provided by one of the characters who, in one very long scene near the end, sums everything up for Miranda and the reader. This is something that works well in an Agatha Christie novel, but feels a bit unnatural here.

While I didn’t like this book as much as Death in Kashmir, it hasn’t put me off wanting to read the rest of the Death in… mysteries. Death in Cyprus will probably be the next one I read, but I also have a copy of Kaye’s historical novel, Shadow of the Moon, which I’m looking forward to reading (and should really have read before now as The Far Pavilions is one of my favourite books).

Have you read any of the Death in… books? Which do you think is the best?

22 thoughts on “Death in Berlin by M.M. Kaye

  1. margaretskea Author of prize winning historical novel Turn of the Tide says:

    I haven’t read any of these either – though I loved the Far Pavilions – would they class as good ‘light reads’?

      • margaretskea Author of prize winning historical novel Turn of the Tide says:

        Thanks, Helen, I’m a sucker for atmosphere and intelligent writing, so they maybe just what I’m looking for just now. Off next weekend to Hawthornden Castle in Scotland on a writing fellowship – hope to get lots of work done, but will probably need something light to read before bed at night to turn my brain off.

  2. Judy Krueger says:

    The Far Pavilions made a big impression on me when I read it years ago. Then I read another one of her novels from that period and felt that she had a formula, so I quit reading her. I had not heard of these mystery novels. I like that you read and review older novels, since I do a lot of that myself. I will have to check these out.

    • Helen says:

      I love The Far Pavilions and have read it more than once, but for some reason I never got round to reading her other historical novels. I’m planning to read Shadow of the Moon soon, so I’ll be interested to see if I find it formulaic.

  3. Alex says:

    There have been a number of recent novels located in Berlin so it would be interesting to read this alongside them and see how perceptions of the city have changed. I haven’t read any Kaye although I’ve been tempted by ‘The Far Pavillions’. Maybe I should try that first.

    • Helen says:

      I think this is the only book I’ve read set in Berlin in this particular period (just after the war) and it is a fascinating setting, even if less glamorous than most of her other novels.

  4. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I haven’t read or heard of these books, but I do like the sound of them – shall keep an eye out, thanks!

  5. Lark says:

    Death in Kashmir and Death in Cyprus are my two favorite M.M. Kaye novels, with Death in Zanzibar coming in third. I didn’t really enjoy Death in Kenya. And I haven’t read Death in Berlin. I think she also wrote Death in the Andamans, which I thought was okay.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, that’s a good way to describe them. I’m pleased to hear Death in Cyprus is one of your favourites, as I’ll probably be reading that one next.

  6. Karen K. says:

    Did not know M. M. Kaye wrote so many mysteries as well — I only knew her as the writer of The Far Pavilions. Apparently my library catalog has quite a few of her titles, so thank you for the recommendation. I’m very intrigued by the books set in India.

    • margaretskea Author of prize winning historical novel Turn of the Tide says:

      Just checked my local library – NO MM Kaye books at all in any of the 9 libraries or numerous Library vans. (Astounded and sad.)

    • Helen says:

      I read The Far Pavilions years ago and was vaguely aware that she had also written a series of mysteries but for some reason never thought about trying them. I would highly recommend Death in Kashmir, but this one not so much.

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