Kaye is an author I only tried for the first time last month, when I reviewed Death in Kenya (1958). In both stories Kaye excels at capturing the locations she sets her novels in, which invariably leaves me wanting to go on holiday, preferably somewhere warm. Though I wouldn’t want the sort of holiday her heroines always seem to end up having. No dead bodies for me please! One thing which helps Kaye write her settings so well is that she writes about places she has visited and like with Kenya, Kaye also went to Cyprus during 1949 on a painting holiday with a friend, when her husband was stationed in Egypt. Most of the action in this story takes place in Kyrenia and the house Amanda stays at is based on the one Kaye stayed in herself. In the author’s note at the beginning of the novel she says that the plot was inspired by bizarre events that actually happened while she was in Cyprus. Having now read the book I’m certainly wondering what on earth happened on her holiday!
Our novel’s protagonist is Amanda Derington and when she comes of age and thus has a small income of her, she defies the authority of her uncle and goes on holiday to Cyprus. Although he heartily disapproves of this he does get her to agree to be put up by Glenn Barton and his wife who run an outpost of the Derington business enterprises. Quite a number of acquaintances are also going to Cyprus on the same boat as Amanda. Firstly there is Captain Gates who is hopelessly in love with her. There is an American romance writer named Persis Halliday and an unhappily married couple called Major and Julia Blaine. Julia is far from popular due to her sour and jealous disposition and life for Major Blaine is unpleasant to say the least. The Blaines are travelling with relations, Claire and George Norman who often reside in Cyprus, the former of which is soon shown to have a darker more manipulative side when it comes to men. Finally there are two unexpected passengers, an unkempt artist and his lady friend, whose arrival causes the party a great deal of disturbance. Amanda’s love interest for the book is soon in evidence, Stephen Howard, a man who disconcerts and annoys her initially. He too is seemingly an artist, but later events suggest he is up to something else.
Superstitious of the number 13, Julia unbeknown to most of the group swaps cabins with Amanda and the reader won’t be surprised when after a bout of hysteria, tears and threats of suicide in front of Amanda, Julia collapses and dies, after having taken some aspirin. Her death is assumed to be a suicide but crucial clues suggest early on to Amanda, Stephen and the reader that it was in fact a murder. A fact Stephen urges Amanda to keep quiet about, pointing out the danger she is in, knowing what she knows, both from the murderer and the officials, as the evidence could be made to fasten any guilt upon her. Mysterious events and secrets within the group continue once on the island. Even the seemingly bland Glenn Barton has something to hide. Though Blaine has died, any investigation into her death is done in the background and quite frankly done off the page. Instead many of the female characters are more interested in gossiping about each other and monopolising the attention of the men. But within this seemingly trivial behaviour more mysterious and deadly events occur and like Death in Kenya, a picnic is an activity best avoided at all costs. Unsurprisingly Amanda’s safety is frequently imperilled, but thankfully she has her guardian angel, Stephen looking after her. Shame not all the women have such protectors as someone else bites the dust. On first appearance all the various unusual events seem disconnected yet by the end they are shown to be connected within a much greater and deadlier plot.
On the whole I preferred this book to Death in Kenya. Both novels have the initial crime appear quickly in the text but then everyday life takes precedence, with the reader being given a great deal of background colour on the suspects, information which does tie into the final solutions of the books. In particular with this read I think the background colour had greater relevance to the final solution and therefore make it interesting and pertinent, instead of feeling like a distraction. This is something which is becoming less disappointing for me as usually I do prefer to have a more overt investigation. However, Kaye’s writing skills made Death in Cyprus an enjoyable read nonetheless, as you become interested in the characters and their relationships to each other, especially considering they are not all that they seem. It is hard to know who to trust and who not to. I didn’t warm to Amanda as much as I did Victoria (heroine of Death in Kenya), as I think Amanda is less mature mentally. This may be because of her upbringing from her uncle who is very conservative. He wouldn’t even let her cut her hair, meaning she can almost sit on hers and the way she plaits it tends to make her come across as juvenile. However having long hair does save her life at one point. I’m still having to work on my disappointment with Kaye’s work where the central heroines, although brilliantly drawn, don’t actually contribute to any of the investigating and their purpose purely seems to be to get into trouble so their love interest can rescue them. A predictable narrative arc, but one Kaye writes very well and Stephen does make for an interesting and appealing love interest. Another character who also appealed was Miss Moon, who Amanda stays with. She is an intelligent spinster who understands the world and human nature very well and never misses a thing. The sort of person, perhaps like Miss Marple, who you would want to have tea and cake with. So in short this is a very well told tale, but the mystery elements are invariably not given as much priority as I would have liked.