Friday, April 12, 2013

Book Review - M.M. Kaye's Death in Kenya

Death in Kenya by M.M. Kaye
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: 1958
Format: Paperback, 204 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

"This book takes place a generation later than my Ashford Affair, in the 1950s, in the aftermath of the Mau Mau rebellion. I’d read this book before—I don’t think there’s any M.M. Kaye I haven’t read and re-read—but it was particularly interesting to read it after writing Ashford, to trace the way the landscape had changed in those thirty years, and to imagine these characters as the descendants of the people my own characters would have known." - Lauren Willig

It isn't until Victoria gets off the train in Kenya that she realizes that it was a big mistake to even come. Yet she thought the offer from her Aunt Em to help with her estate, Flamingo, was a dream come true. After the death of Victoria's mother, it's not like she had anything left for her in England and she longed to return to the Rift Valley where she had spent her happiest days as a child. Though Em's son Eden is there. They were once engaged, but Eden ran off and married Alice... Alice was the reason the Victoria thought it was safe to take Em up on the offer. With Alice there, Victoria's feelings couldn't resurface, it wouldn't be right. But right and wrong have a way of being blurred when you live in this small knit community recovering for the bloody Mau Mau rebellion.

Victoria's error in judgement is compounded when Em's friend Drew Stratton picks her up at the station and she learns of Alice's murder just hours before. Victoria is now not only thrown into a family in turmoil, but her heart is in danger of falling for the grieving Eden all over again. While she is not a suspect, being en route at the time, she doesn't know who to trust... anyone in this community could be the killer. There is also every chance the killer could strike again.

Despite being told for years to read M.M. Kaye, I have been negligent in my reading, until now. The truth of the matter is, give me something with a bit of a mystery, with a little bit of the unexplained, and I'm a sucker, therefore this book appealed to me more then her doorstop of an epic, The Far Pavilions. While at times this book was a bit too history lesson combined with police procedural, Kaye was able to not only capture the era so well, but the lush rift valley was made alive for me in a way that other authors, Frances Osborne in particular, where unable to do. I felt like I was transported. The descriptions of the lush vegetation and the burnt charcoal cairns, the music drifting across the lawns and the clink of glasses as the inhabitants had just one more drink. I was there with Victoria, yet thankfully not able to become the next victim.

While I could fault the book's constant police presence, I just can't. The suspects being in constant contact with each other could have given this book a feel like Agatha Christie rounding up the suspects for Poirot, but for some reason, the more modern feeling of the setting with the Mau Mau Rebellion, made me think that this felt more like the movie Scream. Now, I know what you're thinking, this comparison couldn't possibly be flattering to the book... yet it is. Scream has a campy fun to it that I very much like and take into account that this movie is also about a close knit community, a group of friends and family who always have the cops on hand and are always in each others presence, usually in just the one house, but the danger and the death is always there. The fact that the killer also uses a disguise... well, I know it's not Ghostface... and other killers do use disguises... but the ending clinches the comparison for me, and if I said it here, well that would be telling. Just, when you read this book, which you will, when you get to the end, just come back and tell me I'm a little bit right with my comparison. And speaking of the ending... I really didn't see that coming, now did you? Yes, I'm assuming that you have now gone and read the book and returned.

Kaye must also be applauded with how she deals with love and lust. Many authors just don't get the romance right. Either it's over the top or unrealistic. While she does underplay the extremely romantic love interest that I feel is at the heart of this book and therefore makes it work more, she is also able to juggle all the star crossed lovers and inappropriate dalliances that happen among a small group. As Fabrice says to Fanny in Love in a Cold Climate, "She lives, as all those sort of women do, in one little tiny group or set, and sooner or later everybody in that set becomes the lover of everybody else, so that when they change their lovers it is more like a cabinet reshuffle than a new government. Always chosen out of the same old lot, you see." Here, cut off from any other society, the cabinet is reshuffled often. Though in the end... it ends on just the right note. I hate when after all the killing and death if the right people don't end up together, don't you?


Great review, Eliza! I haven't read this series yet, but I loved her historical novel, The Far Pavilions.

Giada, I'd totally pick this up if I were you. For years I too thought the books were a strict series, but they're just books on a common theme, being English Ex Pats living abroad and getting involved in murder.

I really loved Kaye's "The Far Pavilions" and "The Shadow of the Moon." Have you read any of her other mysteries, Eliza?

I haven't... yet! I have "The Far Pavilions" sitting on my shelf as well as "The Shadow of the Moon" so I might read those before more of her mysteries, but I can't wait to read them when I have time!

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