Death in Cyprus by M.M. Kaye

I read this novel from 1956, the third in M.M. Kaye’s Death In… series, in the final days of February and it provided some welcome respite from the freezing temperatures and heavy snow we were experiencing in my part of the country. Lovely, evocative passages like this one took me away from the cold for a while and into the warmth and beauty of Cyprus:

Olive groves, the tree trunks so gnarled and twisted with age that some of them must surely have seen the Crusaders come and go, stood dark against the glittering expanse of blue, and below them the little town of Kyrenia lay basking in the noonday sun like a handful of pearls and white pebbles washed up by the sea.

The setting is not as idyllic as it seems, however: there appears to be a murderer on the loose – someone has already killed once and could kill again. The first death occurs on board the S.S. Orantares on which twenty-one-year-old Amanda Derington is a passenger. Amanda has accompanied her uncle on a business trip to North Africa and has suggested that she could visit Cyprus while he continues his tour of the various offices of the Derington empire. Horrified at the thought of his niece travelling alone, Uncle Oswin arranges for her to be chaperoned on the journey and to stay at the home of one of his managers on her arrival.

Setting sail from Egypt to Cyprus, Amanda gets to know Alistair Blaine and his wife Julia, an unhappy, bitter woman who accuses every other female on the ship of trying to steal her husband. When Julia collapses and dies in Amanda’s cabin after drinking a glass of her favourite lemon water, only Amanda knows that it was not suicide. Taking the advice of her fellow passenger Steve Howard, Amanda keeps her thoughts to herself, and when she finds a bottle of poison hidden behind her pillow she conceals the evidence from the police. After all, she herself would be the prime suspect and could find it difficult to prove her innocence. Unfortunately, this decision puts her in danger of a different kind when they reach Cyprus, where her knowledge of the crime could make her the killer’s next target…

Death in Cyprus is a great murder mystery with plenty of possible suspects. Apart from Amanda herself, I could imagine every one of them being the murderer and my suspicion fell on one, then another, then another, then switched back to the first. Could it be Persis Halliday, the American romantic novelist who has come to Cyprus to look for inspiration? What about Glenn Barton, the Derington employee who was supposed to be Amanda’s host in Nicosia but had to cancel because his wife had left him? Claire Norman, who seems to know far too much about everyone else’s business? Or Lumley Potter, the spiritual, bohemian artist who is Glenn’s wife’s new lover? The eventual solution to the mystery is quite logical and I feel as though I should have worked it out, but I had allowed myself to get too distracted by red herrings!

As this is a book from the 1950s, some of the attitudes are a bit dated, particularly regarding a romance which develops between Amanda and one of the group she travels to Cyprus with (I won’t tell you who he is, even though it’s very obvious from early in the book). There’s a definite sense that he views Amanda as a helpless woman who needs the protection of a man – although, to be fair, she gives that impression herself with her habit of repeatedly putting herself into dangerous situations from which she needs to be rescued, wandering off on her own in lonely places and venturing into strangers’ houses late at night! Of course, Amanda’s reckless actions do have a purpose because they are the reason for most of the suspense in the story.

I love the Death In… novels. I’ve read three so far and enjoyed them all, especially this one and Death in Kashmir. The books all stand alone – they have different settings and different characters – but I have been reading them in publication order anyway, which means Death in Kenya will be next for me.

15 thoughts on “Death in Cyprus by M.M. Kaye

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

    I’ve always enjoyed these MM Kaye’s – a little bit of light relief – in the same way as Mary Stewart’s mysteries are.

  2. piningforthewest says:

    I skimmed your post as I really want to read this one. I wish I had thought of reading something in a nice warm setting during all that snow!

  3. Lark says:

    This is my favorite M.M. Kaye novel –I love how Steve calls her Amarantha!– followed closely by Death in Kashmir. I think they’re her best Death novels. Death in Zanzibar is fun, just not as good as these two. 🙂

  4. cirtnecce says:

    I am of course a devoted Kaye fan. Her historical as well as mysteries are my favorite all time read. This is one sans the politically charged atmosphere of Death in Kashmir is all round good fun! You know it is interesting that she wrote of such helpless, damsel in distress heroines, considering she was anything like that herself! She set sail to India from England defying all her family and without a chaperone, lived alone and gave birth to her first daughter, in a remote jungle in North Eastern India, with only her husband to help!

    • Helen says:

      I preferred the atmosphere of Death in Kashmir, but yes, this one was a lot of fun to read! It sounds as though Kaye had a fascinating life. I will have to read her autobiography one day.

  5. Judy Krueger says:

    I did not realize there were three of these but a good mystery in a foreign land is fine with me. I think those 50s attitudes toward women, though of course they cause us to wince these days, probably helped sell the books despite MM Kaye’s own adventurousness.

    • Helen says:

      There are another three that I haven’t read yet as well – Death in Kenya, Death in Zanzibar and Death in the Andamans. I think it’s a great series, despite those 50s attitudes!

  6. buriedinprint says:

    Ah, the reckless and unsupervised woman in a 1950s novel: what would we do without her?! *smiles* Although I’ve never read M.M. Kaye, I imagine that I would quite enjoy her (with all the reservations – er, observations – that you’ve remarked upon above).

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I think you might like these books. The portrayal of Amanda didn’t bother me, really, as I expect that sort of thing in older novels. Definitely more of an observation than a reservation!

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