M.M. Kaye •
Death in the Andamans •
As the wife of a British army officer, M.M. Kaye found herself shuffled from one far-flung outpost to another—Zanzibar, Cyprus, Kashmir. But the resourceful Kaye turned her years of expatriation to good advantage by writing murder mysteries set in each remote locale.
The Andaman Islands are about as remote as it gets, nearly a thousand miles from India, with Myanmar 400 miles east and nothing but blue ocean to the south (at least until you reach Antarctica). The archipelago was once used as a penal colony, but by the time our story opens it is nearly deserted. A murder in this spot is much like a murder on a snowbound train: The roster of suspects is necessarily limited, and no one gets to leave.
Copper Randal and Valerie Masson are spending Christmas at the settlement of Ross, where Valerie’s stepfather is chief commissioner of the Andamans. Social life here seethes with jealousy, resentment, hysterics, and double-dealing. Copper begins having nightmares almost at once, even before a freak storm drowns one of the island residents.
Kaye sets a wonderfully atmospheric stage at Government House: carved stair posts “like the masks of Burmese devil-dancers . . . whose dark, malignant features peered out of the shadows.” At night the walls come alive with bats, rats, and lizards; none of the rooms can be closed, having only swinging shutters in place of doors. “Sudden vicious gusts of wind rattled at the hinges and wailed about the house; moaning, whispering, tapping to be let in; screaming like a host of banshees or sighing like a small, lost, lonely ghost.” Creepy enough for you?
Look for supernatural presences, evil doings, and shivers all around in this gripping tour de force.