Sunday, September 25, 2016

Death in the Andamans: Review

Death in the Andamans (1960) by M. M. Kaye finds Caroline "Copper" Randal on one of the enchanting Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean in time for the Christmas holidays. She recently has come into a legacy which allows her to take advantage of the standing invitation from her friend Valerie Masson. Valerie is the stepdaughter of the Islands' Chief Commissioner and wants Copper to share the beautiful island locale. At first, the only thing marring this island paradise is presence of Ruby Stock--a married woman, but one who still fancies herself a femme fatale and who forces the attention of every available male to herself. Unfortunately for Copper, this includes Nick Tarrent, the dashing young officer from the Sapphire, docked in the harbor.

But soon there is a bigger problem. A hurricane blows in just as the house guests gathered at Government House are finishing a picnic up on Mount Harriet. The party consists of Copper, Valerie, Valerie's fiance, Charles, Nick and his fellow officer Dan Harcourt, Ruby and her husband Leonard Stock, Rosamund & Ronnie Purvis, John Shilto and his brother Ferrers, Miss Amabel Withers and her on-again/off-again boyfriend George Beamish, the Rector and Mrs. Dobbie, and Deputy Commissioner Albert Hurridge. There is tension in the air--and not all of it is because of the threatening weather. Half the party returns by car and the others are to return in boats. When the sea-faring half finally arrive--soaked and bedraggled because their boats were all swamped in the storm--they are missing Ferrers Shilto, presumed drowned. 

When Shilto's body washes up on shore, it is given a cursory going-over by the nurse and Dutt, the doctor's assistant (the doctor having been stranded off-island in the storm), and pronounced drowned. But Dan Harcourt has his doubts and vows to look at the body more closely himself. Then he turns up dead as well. There is a killer stalking the house party. Who is it? And what is the motive behind it all?

This is another solid mystery outing from M. M. Kaye using her own experiences to inform her novel. Kaye spent a bit of time on Ross, the island in question, just prior to the outbreak of World War II under circumstances very similar. When her party was caught on the island during a storm, it occurred to her what a nice place it would be for a murder--intensify the storm, knock out all communications, and strand a few important people (like doctors) off-island and you'd be all set. So, she did. The story is also up to her usual standard in terms of atmosphere and setting. The reader can definitely imagine the beauties of the island, settle back into the pre-war atmosphere, and then feel the building tensions as the storm approaches.

The mystery itself is presented with a light touch and the blend of romantic suspense is Kaye's forte. There are clues a-plenty and she does a fair job with a variation of the locked room/impossible crime motif. An enjoyable murder mystery with a good try at fair play plotting. There are a few details that are kept from the reader--but astute mystery fans should be able to piece it all together. ★★ and a half.

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This counts for the "Country Scene" square on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.
 

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