Death in Berlin

M.M. Kaye is a very good, and much neglected, author. She's best known now for The Far Pavilions and other sweeping sagas of British India. Her career as a novelist however started with crime dramas - specifically of the "woman in danger" type. I quite like this style of thriller however - it has the connotation that the woman will be a bit of a wimp and will be saved by the strong handsome man, and, yes, there is a certain element of this fantasy, in that the hero inevitably is handsome, and that the woman is usually young and in a fish-out-of-water situation. However in every novel of this type I have ever read, the woman is definitely no wimp, indeed by the standards of the day when these novels were written (peak period was 1950-1970), she was remarkably ahead of her time, travelling to remote places, and often with a career, or the prospect of a career.

Two of the best exponents of this style of novel were Mary Stewart and M.M. Kaye. Mary Margaret Kaye wrote a series of novels with exotic settings, they were all at least partly grounded in her own experience. She was an Army wife, who travelled around the globe with her husband, among other places to Berlin, Cyprus, Kenya, Zanzibar and Kashmir. Her experiences in remote places then bled into her mystery novels, where murder happened in all the above.

I believe that Death walked in Berlin, or as it's now more succinctly named Death in Berlin was her first crime novel, and it's very good. It's extremely atmospheric - Kaye's husband was first posted to Berlin in the early '50s, post-Berlin-Airlift, but before the Berlin Wall was erected, and the atmosphere of her book which is set around this time reflects this. It's fascinating, much more like The Third Man than, say a John Le Carre novel.

She really brings post-war Berlin to life in all its division and ruin but also the prospects for the future. It's quite clear that even at this stage she was aware of the German economic miracle that was going to arise from the ashes. It's also a very good mystery in itself, it deals with what could be seen as coincidences very convincingly, and the murderer is unexpected.

It's a great atmospheric light clever read. A good introduction to Kaye's crime fiction.


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