Death in Zanzibar (M.M. Kaye)

  • By M.M. Kaye
  • First published: UK: Longmans, 1959, as The House of Shade; revised Allen Lane, 1983

In these days of lockdown, we may not be able to travel, but M.M. Kaye’s half-dozen mysteries may ease some of the pain for armchair travellers. Kaye – Anglo-Indian wife of a British army officer – set her detective stories in the far-flung locations they were posted, from Kenya to Kashmir. They are some of the most entertaining mysteries of the Silver Age: deftly plotted, well-characterised whodunnits with a dash of romance.

Dany Ashton, Kaye’s ingénue heroine, has long dreamt of visiting the Sultanate of Zanzibar, with its glittering beaches, underground wells, haunted palaces, and buried treasure. She leaps at the invitation to visit her mother and stepfather on the island – but murder is also on the itinerary. Zanzibar is almost screwball comedy. Dany visits her family solicitor an hour before his murder, then loses her passport. With the giddy singlemindedness of a Thirties heroine, she determines that nothing will stop her from visiting Zanzibar, not even helping the police; a handsome drunkard suggests she travel as his secretary. The highlight is the description of the 24-hour plane flight from Britain to Zanzibar via Italy, Khartoum, Nairobi, Mombasa, and Pemba – as exotic and out of reach today as it would have been to most of Kaye’s readers. Although there are three murders along the way, this is not so good a problem as Death in Kenya or the Andaman Islands; no great tricks, and the clues to the murderer are rather slight. Still, this is stylish entertainment.


CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS

Auberon Waugh in the Standard: I recommend it wholeheartedly to those who fancy teh idea of Agatha Christie with a touch of romantic suspense.

Sunday Times: A plot whirling round buried gold, a couple of murders, and suspects aplenty … bitchily gossipy; gently ingenious.

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