Tag Archives: M M Kaye

Death in Berlin

M M Kaye wrote six ‘Death in …’ novels, each featuring a lovely young heroine meeting crime in a thriller setting, somewhere exotic. And also meeting love in the shape of dashing and mysterious man.

So, therein lies the problem, now that it’s the 21st century. On rereading Mary Stewart’s romance set in Vienna last year, I found it had grown old gracefully. Her heroines were usually a little more mature [than barely out of their teens] and her men not too frightfully macho. They had good conversation, and who cares if they were all rather unfashionable [by today’s standards] and belonging to the more entitled social classes?

Not me. Not then, and not now.

But this one by M M Kaye, the Death in Berlin one, was every bit as bleak as I recalled. Possibly because a cold and wet March in 1953 in a divided Berlin, with lots of ruins still, can never be as charming as a sunny romance in Africa or India. And I do remember being disappointed in the hero. He’d almost have been all right – at least now when I’m older and wiser – and then she had to go and compare him to Alec Guinness!

M M Kaye, Death in Berlin

And the class thing; it’s really not working. They are so frightfully British and superior in war torn Germany. Fine, you can hate the life as the wife of a British army officer, the moving round the world, and all that. But it’s not attractive voicing such hatred of foreigners. Fine, you want your heroine to do well. But in this case her man has a job. He doesn’t have to tell his new love that she needn’t worry, because he does have a private income as well. And his attitude towards this beautiful young female would be highly inappropriate today.

The crime, though, is pretty satisfying, and I couldn’t remember who did it. Quite a good thrilling end.

And as I mentioned yesterday, I liked the Berlin connection, even if it wasn’t exactly Zanzibar. It was clear that M M Kaye had lived there herself, at that time. I was amused to see that even back then there was a noticeable difference between British workmen and German ones. Seems that foreigners are good for some things, then.

Advertisements

Deer Dale

And to think I was childishly pleased to see the three deer from the tram near Edinburgh Airport on Friday morning. I should have realised.

There was a stag party on my plane. Stephen was getting married. I’ve no idea who Stephen was, but I shocked Daughter by mentioning the best man by name. Dale. ‘How do you know?’ she wailed. Well, it was on his t-shirt, wasn’t it? If I met any of these stags on their own, I’m sure I’d find them as charming as, well, as anyone I meet. But together they were a noisy lot, rather drunk, and needed to go to the toilet very frequently. (I usually reserve that last activity for myself.)

We had a pleasant couple of days in the German capital, Daughter and I. Well, there was the nightly serenading outside our window I suppose; first from the karaoke, and later the happy groups of people ‘just passing by.’ Like the group of English people singing [surprisingly well] at four am. The acoustics were great down there, between the tall buildings. Made the singing really stand out.

I found myself lying in bed, wondering if that was what winning the war had been about. Making travelling to stag weekends in Berlin affordable, or enabling nightly singing in Berlin streets. And what effect will Brexit have on this wine, women and song stuff?

After mentioning M M Kaye’s Death in Berlin on Friday, I decided to reread the book. I always thought it was her weakest romantic whodunnit, and that opinion still stands. It was interesting to read from the purely Berlin point of view, though. Saturday morning found us standing more or less where the heroine was, in the Soviet part of the park, watching that woman behave suspiciously with that man. The fictional characters. Not us. That was quite fun.

We had drinking problems, too. As in how to get proper tea, with milk. After a highly unusual tea and cake session where we discovered – not surprisingly – that green tea with hot milk just doesn’t cut it, we tried to work out how to ask for black tea, as opposed to green, which is then to be made not black by the addition of milk, preferably cold. In German.

On a Sunday, when you don’t get ‘any’ open shops, you still find plenty of shops open, selling alcohol, juice, fizzy drinks, chocolate, postcards, etc. Just not milk. But it is perfectly possible to drink that black tea black. Not as nice, but perfectly possible.

A half marathon on the Sunday sent us to the zoo. When it looked like most of our potential routes anywhere would be blocked by runners, we walked the five minutes to the zoo and spent the morning looking at sad elephants and sad chimpanzees. And a panda.

Also antelopes and the head of a polar bear.

When it was time for your Witch to fly home again, by plane rather than broom, she discovered that the stags seemed to have survived the weekend and were ready to fly home with her, nicely lubricated. I recognised Dale, even without his t-shirt (=he was wearing something else), and the cute stag who actually had hair, unlike most of today’s young men, and who looked exactly as I have imagined Mary Hoffman’s Lucien, from City of Masks.

But I’d rather have flown home without them.

Berlin

Erich und Lisa, and Paul and Matt, too.

No, that’s not a new book.

Travel gods willing, I’m off to Berlin today, so thought I’d ‘fob you off’ with some Berlin books.

I’ve never been, so am writing this blind. I’ll be interested to discover how much of Erich Kästner’s city remains. Having watched all three Emil und die Detektive films, I should know. Only one was made before the war. If Emil was English, it’d be easy enough to film a boy in prewar London now. There are plenty of houses and buildings left. I hope quite a bit of Berlin is also still there.

The other old Berlin I ‘know’ is Lisa Tetzner’s, where her child characters lived in tenements in the 1930s. Surely some remain? And I have no idea how large Berlin was in those days. I’m assuming the children in no. 67 lived quite centrally.

You can find countless children’s books set in today’s London. There must be a Berlin counterpart. It’s ‘just’ that we don’t get to see those books.

The more recently written novels that come to mind are British. There was Paul Dowswell’s Ausländer ten years ago. Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen from last year. Both showing life within Germany. Both featuring WWII. There’s more to Germany and Berlin than that.

Death in Berlin, by M M Kaye, set in postwar Berlin. It’s decades since I read it, and I recall a sense of bleakness.

Ich bin ein Berliner, as JFK said. Whether or not that makes us doughnuts I will leave unsaid. I’m certainly rounded enough.

Smuggler’s Kiss

Hands up anyone who hasn’t secretly wanted to find themselves on a pirate ship, in the company of a desirable male, young or otherwise! I obviously mean this in the romantic, fictional way, that has nothing to do with a smuggler’s reality, which is a lot less attractive. (Or so I imagine.)

Marie-Louise Jensen, Smuggler's Kiss

It might be a set type of plot, but it’s one that I have enjoyed from long forgotten books via MM Kaye’s Trade Wind, and on to Marie-Louise Jensen’s Smuggler’s Kiss. I’m very grateful to Marie-Louise, because she is taking care of this historical romance writing that I didn’t see enough of for far too long. She writes the sort of books I’d have written, if I’d been able to.

Smuggler’s Kiss starts with young Isabelle who feels compelled to do something pretty desperate, but who ends up being rescued by a group of smugglers, out smuggling. Luckily they don’t throw her overboard again, and so her new life as a smuggler begins.

Isabelle meets the annoying, but kind and handsome Will, who also appears not to be your typical smuggler. He helps Isabelle as she gets involved with the smuggler’s work, and she in turn assists her new shipmates with what little she is able to do. She is very spoiled, so it’s not all smooth sailing.

The trouble with being a smuggler is that it’s illegal and people are always out to get you. So it is for this crew, and for Will and Isabelle, as well. She learns a few lessons, but so do the smugglers. And finally they, and the reader, find out why they have been particularly unlucky.

It’s quite a useful lesson in history (though I’m not sure exactly when this is set…), and as I hinted before, it is romantic, in just the right way.

Bring me more smuggler romances!

From Kashmir to the Andamans

That day, when I began pulling ‘Indian’ books from my shelves, to re-visit or to read for the first time, I was rather alarmed to find that the first book my hand encountered was Death in Kashmir by M M Kaye. I looked at it, and hoped it wouldn’t be. Then I stashed it away for the time being.

That means I’ve not even attempted to re-read, speedily or otherwise, either the Kashmir based romantic thriller, or the one called Death in the Andamans. The strange thing is I remember virtually nothing about them, so could obviously re-read as though they were new. Not so much should I want to, but if I ever have time.

I suspect that back in the olden days, I was simply less interested in this part of the world. Zanzibar was romantic and Cyprus was my favourite. Kenya was OK, and Berlin seemed a little on the grey side.

M M Kaye, Death in Kashmir

I won’t have realised that India was M M’s own country, rather than just another exotic place she had picked to write about. This time round I found the author’s notes the most enlightening, and it seems the Kashmir book was delayed considerably while she met her husband-to-be, married him, had their children and moved around a lot. It’s very romantic, that M M went from 2000 words a day, to nothing. And less romantic that she began writing again because they were poor and needed the money.

If I put them all together, I’m sure my readers have been everywhere in the world. Needless to say I ‘spoke’ to one this week who visited Kashmir while it was ‘open for business.’ Probably would have sent me a postcard, too, if we’d known each other back then.

Postcards have been thin on the ground this time. But, there is always facebook, so I have to make do with that. And perhaps the postcard is in the post.

TFP

It’s good to see that The Far Pavilions is alive and well enough to merit being called TFP by its fans. I’ve also found a fantastic website about the book, which I will only let you visit if you promise you are not writing an essay on M M Kaye’s novel and are intending to cheat. I’m so impressed that someone is keen enough to do all that extra work and then to put it on the internet.

Also really impressed that so many readers were not put off the 950 pages and actually bought and read the book. I know the power of television and film, but I gather people read TFP before it as well. As you know – because I told you the other day – I read it after, but never watched the mini-series.

The Far Pavilions

What surprises me is that the story isn’t coming back to me all that much, despite reacquainting myself with the book and reading up on it. I do remember enjoying it, nearly 30 years ago, but I wonder if it was a little heavy on the history for me. Reading it with an atlas to hand would make a lot of difference.

The story begins in the 1850s when Ash is born, somewhere in the middle of nowhere in India. He’s British, but ends up being brought up by an Indian woman, learning to speak lots of the local languages. Circumstances then send him to school in England, which he hates, until he can return home. Ash falls in love with a bullied Indian princess, and the rest of TFP deals with their love and their enemies and the general unrest in the country, finishing up in Kabul…

I must have missed the 2005 London musical based on TFP, and not being an avid radio listener I had no idea it was on Radio Four a year ago. That would have been nice. There is  apparently a new film being made, which sounds like it’s a cooperation with Bollywood. I would love to see it, and it’s a good idea to make more of an Indian film of such an Indian story.

In fact, the Resident IT Consultant and I were discussing how history is taught in schools. I decided I remembered more from fiction and films than from twelve years of history at school. Perhaps that’s where they go wrong? Give children books, and the occasional film instead. When I get that eighth day in my week I will read some more.

Shadow of the Moon

What I was really after as I searched my shelves was M M Kaye’s Indian novels. I came to them late, having ‘grown up’ on her modern romantic thrillers. But then in the early 1980s we had The Far Pavilions and The Jewel in the Crown (neither of which I watched, as we didn’t own a television…) and I somehow got swept up in this new love for old love in India in the past. And I may have been television-less, but books are easy to buy.

Finding that I had several new-to-me, absolutely gloriously romantic and exciting and very long novels by my old favourite, was a real bonus, and I enjoyed every single one.

I must own up to not having hastily re-read Shadow of the Moon, but I had a quick look through and am as charmed now as I was then, and very tempted to have another go at reading it. I used to be of the opinion that earlier works tend to be better than novels written by authors well past retirement age (sorry!) so I picked Shadow of the Moon because it was written in the 1950s, well before M M Kaye’s television success.

M M Kaye, Shadow of the Moon

Set in the time leading up to the Indian mutiny in the middle of the 19th century, I somehow thought it might not be very interesting. How wrong I was! A good romance and a good adventure is always great, whenever it is set. And the love story between Winter and Alex is one of the memorable ones.

True, this kind of book is mainly set among the ‘British’ and is not ‘real’ Indian, but the British were there, so it features something that did exist, whether you think it is right or wrong. M M Kaye was born there, and lived in India for many years. She spoke Hindi. She did what is natural; wrote about what she knew.

That’s why it’s so very good.

M M Kaye on the background to writing Shadow of the Moon.

(The cover image above is the one I have. It’s not my favourite, and here you can see why.)