Friday, April 22, 2016

Death in Cyprus: Review

In Death in Cyprus (1956) by M. M. Kaye, Amanda Deringting has been under the thumb of her rather Calvinistic and Victorian-minded uncle ever since her parents died when she was young. He believes in the pure life and that he (a bachelor) knew better how to raise a girl than her aunts. But when he takes Amanda on a trip so he can visit outlying posts of the Derington empire (branch offices in all sorts of outlandish places), she turns twenty-one and decides to kick over the traces and go her own way. Oswin Derington decides that a portion of the trip will be unsuitable for Amanda and orders her back to England. However, there are no suitable berths immediately available (and he is, for reasons known only to himself, opposed to young women flying) and he packs her off to the temporary care of one of his sisters in Fayid.

Amanda finds that she enjoys her aunt's company and the environs of Fayid and notifies her uncle that she will be staying for several months and then making a trip to Cyprus--a place she's always wanted to visit. He is, naturally, aghast at the idea of his niece wandering about unchaperoned and insists that she stay with the Bartons in Cyprus. Glennister (Glenn) Barton is the head of one of Deringtons' ventures, a wine business, on the island. This is to prove a rather fateful trip for Amanda. 

On the boat over to Cyprus, she becomes acquainted with various passengers who all plan on visiting Cyprus as well. There is Major and Mrs. Blaine (Alistair and Julia), he the long-suffering husband of a jealous woman who believes every female who even looks at the major will try to seduce him and who uses various made-up ailments to demand his attention. There is Persis Halliday, an American romance novelist looking for romantic views and plot ideas as well as not being adverse to a bit of flirting and possible romance herself. There is George and Claire Norman, relations of Alistair's with Claire being the femme fatale type who must be the center of all male attention. There is Captain Toby Gates, who thinks he's in love with Amanda--the latest in a line of fallings in love. There are two artists: Lumley Potter and Steve Howard. Potter of the obviously put-on bohemian clothes and long-hair, who simply must have a spiritual connection with what he paints. And Howard, with the more prosaic and more typical British, but far more talented of the two.

Julia Blaine starts the journey off with a bout of hysterics. She has been assigned to cabin 13 and she simply can't bear to cross over in a cabin with an unlucky number. Amanda generously offer to switch cabins, but it still winds up being unlucky for poor Julia. Someone, who apparently had not heard about the switch, leaves a lemon water drink (Julia's favorite weight-loss tonic) and through an odd bit of coincidence, the woman winds up hysterical, bursts into Amanda's cabin babbling about how she can't take her husband's philandering any more, and drinks it while downing some aspirin to calm her nerves. Howard, who seems to have more going on than the average painter, convinces Amanda not to tell all she knows and a verdict of suicide is brought in. Amanda thinks the worst is over.  Howard is sure it's only the beginning and that Amanda may be next on the killer's list. When Amanda winds up staying with Miss Moon instead of the Bartons and other deaths occur all around her, it begins to look like he is right.

Once again, Kaye has used her own experiences to inform her novel. In 1949, she and a friend spent a painting holiday in Cyprus, stayed in "an enchanting house in Kyrenia" which she uses in the story, and "the plot was practically handed to [her] on a plate by a series of curious incidents that occurred during [their] stay." The vivid portrayal of the places and experiences could only come from first-hand knowledge. Despite the suspenseful danger looming over our heroine, this is a very light mystery. We read about her brushes with death and her sense of forboding with a nod and wink, knowing that she's going to come through the danger even though all of her companions on the island may not be so lucky. And, knowing M. M. Kaye, we also know that any hints of romance will be completely fulfilled by the story's end. Kaye may employ a romantic suspense formula, but it's a comforting and satisfying formula when Kaye does it so well. And this time she managed to pull the wool over my eyes completely--or perhaps it's more accurate to say that she distracted me sufficiently to keep me from picking up a few vital clues. Highly enjoyable. ★★★★

This fulfills the "Moon" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

1 comment:

fredamans said...

Sounds like a very well-written and thought out book. I have to read this author.