Sarah checked, staring. Frozen into immobility by the sight of the door that she had so recently closed. Someone must have eased it open while she talked with Janet in the snow, and was now closing it again – slowly and with extreme care – and presently she heard the faint click as the latch slowly returned softly to its place. But it was a long time before she dared move, and standing in the icy moonlight she recalled, with a cold prickling of the scalp that had nothing to do with the night air, Janet’s carelessly confident words of a few moments ago, when she had spoken of the Blue Run: ‘There won’t be a murderer waiting down there for me at this time of night.’
The year is 1947. After two centuries of rule, the British Raj in India is coming to a close. Sarah Parrish is amongst the thirty-odd skiing enthusiasts who have assembled at Gulmarg in Kashmir to attend the last meeting of the Ski Club of India before the British depart forever. However, their pleasure is marred by the death of one of them. Mrs. Matthews accidentally skids to her death and her rigid corpse is picked up amongst the snow covered boulders. If the sight of her grotesquely jumbled up corpse was not enough, Sarah is told by another member of the group that Mrs. Matthew’s death was no accident but murder. As the body count grows and the terror increases, Sarah realises that she might very well be the next victim.
M.M. Kaye was to me the author of historical romances like The Far Pavilions. I had no idea that she had written a series of murder mysteries. In this novel, she combines elements of the cozy mystery and the spy thriller to come up with a taut murder mystery that will have your nerves jangling. Here’s Sarah reflecting on an act of eavesdropping:
Someone had been standing there, watching and listening. And if it had merely been somebody roused from sleep, as she herself had been , surely they would have called out? In that bright moonlight it would have been impossible not to see Janet and herself, or fail to recognize them; and anyone who thought they heard voices and decided to investigate, would have hailed them. Besides…Sarah shivered again as she remembered that closing door: it had been eased shut so slowly, so very gently…
The book also has certain memorable characters. Here’s the incorrigible Hugo Creed giving a piece of advice to Sarah:
‘Don’t interrupt Hugo!…If you weren’t married to Fudge of course, I dare say I could go for you in a big way.’
‘Kindly avoid the use of imported slang, my child,’ begged Hugo. ‘Besides, the expression you have just made use of never fails to put me in mind of a determined dowager at a free tea making a feline pounce upon the last austerity bun. And to return to the subject of your original remark, which I now take, in lieu of myself, to refer to Charles Mallory, if you are thinking of working up a romantic interest in him you can save yourself a lot of trouble by following Mr. Punch’s celebrated advice to those about to get married: “Don’t!”‘
Kaye captures well the curtains coming down on a way of life. The ball rooms and clubs wear a deserted look. There is confusion and panic among the British as to what they will do back in England:
Perhaps, with the ending of the war, they and many like them had subconsciously expected the clock to turn back again. But the old days were over for good. India was to be given her freedom and 150 years of British rule would end. There was nothing left for the Johnnies and Helens except memories and debts…
At the same time however, Kaye makes no mention of the riots that were tearing apart the Indian subcontinent at this point of time. Perhaps the British just couldn’t be bothered…
Despite certain shortcomings this is a thrilling read and I will like to read more of Kaye’s Death series.
First Line: Afterwards Sarah could never be sure whether it was the moonlight or that soft, furtive sound that had awakened her.
Author: M.M. Kaye
Publishing Details: NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1984.
First Published: 1953
Original Title: Death Walked in Kashmir
Copies of Death in Kashmir are available on the Net. I borrowed mine from Dyal Singh Public Library, ITO. [823K18D]
The rest of the post contains spoilers so do not read any further unless you have read the book. However, I’d love to hear your views on the book/ review so do please leave a comment.
Could you guess the identity of the Mastermind? I am afraid I could not though I did have doubts regarding the murderer’s spouse:) It did seem to me , however, as though Kaye simply choice the unlikeliest of them all. Come on, there wasn’t a whiff of the person’s allegiance or worldview all thru the novel. Only in the end…quite out of the blue…
Submitted for the following Reading Challenges:
2 Mystery and Suspense
3 A- Z
4 Borrowed Book