Death in Cyprus (M.M. Kaye)

  • By M.M. Kaye
  • First published: UK: Staples Press, 1956, as Death Walked in Cyprus.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Julia Blaine – fat, spiteful, and pathologically jealous – is poisoned onboard the S.S. Orantares, travelling from Egypt to Cyprus. The death is hushed up; Steven Howard, artist, suppresses vital evidence to protect Amanda Derington, innocent ingenoo, and the coroner passes a verdict of suicide. But Amanda’s life is in peril – and on Cyprus the murderer strikes again…

Death in Cyprus is a model post-war detective story. Kaye has obviously read Agatha Christie (and probably Christianna Brand and John Dickson Carr, too), and profited by it. She presents us with eight choices, all equally probable, some with motive, some with opportunity, few with either. She knows how to subtly place a clue and how to deftly manipulate the reader’s suspicions.

At the end of Chapter 16, I confidently named X; rereading the start and the middle of the book (ROT13: Puncgre Ryrira, gb or cerpvfr) confirmed my suspicions – but a lack of opportunity seemed to place my horse decisively out of the running. So did a confession a couple of chapters later; experienced readers know that the guiltier a character appears, the less likely they are to be guilty (unless, of course, it’s a double bluff). I suspected two more characters before Kaye brought the guilt home to my original choice. Bravo, ma’am!

There are some admirably ingenious touches, including one of those double-meaning, misleading conversations Christie specialised in. I was so distracted by what seemed to be a cunning description of murder on the next page that I missed the import of the conversation, and hence a motive. What seems to be mere descriptive writing (ROT13: gur fha fgernzvat guebhtu gur jvaqbj) breaks the murderer’s alibi. And the clue of the ROT13: vprq qevax va n ubg pbeevqbe is beautifully placed, too; it’s there, you’ll miss it, and it rules out an obvious assumption about the first murder (ROT13: gung gur svefg ivpgvz jnf gur vagraqrq ivpgvz). On the other hand, I’m not sure that the reader can really deduce the motive, and the use of an accomplice skirts the border of cheating; the only hint (a lie) is technically fair but tenuous, and the dodge artificially clears X from suspicion.

Other reviews: Cross Examining Crime; A Hot Cup of Pleasure.

3 thoughts on “Death in Cyprus (M.M. Kaye)

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