by M.M. Kaye
Miranda Brand is visiting Germany for what is supposed to be a month's vacation. But from the moment that Brigadier Brindley relates the story about a fortune in lost diamonds-- a story in which Miranda herself figures in an unusual way-- the vacation atmosphere becomes transformed into something more ominous. And when murder strikes on the night train to Berlin, Miranda finds herself unwillingly involved in a complex chain of events that will soon throw her own life into peril. Set against a background of war-scarred Berlin in the early 1950s, M. M. Kaye's Death in Berlin is a consummate mystery from one of the finest storytellers of our time.
While it was not without fault, I enjoyed reading Death in Berlin. This was my second read from the "Death in..."series, the first being Death in Kashmir, and though it seems that most reviewers prefer Kashmir, I think I found Berlin more interesting, for some reason. (That may be due to something as simple-- yet elusive-- as "the right book at the right time".)
Based on what I've read so far (and comments from other readers), Kaye has a formula for her mysteries, and she sticks to it. Murder(s) and suspense in a foreign (usually exotic) setting. Very young Englishwoman on holiday. Handsome man (often in position of authority/law enforcement) comes along/works the murder case, and the two fall in love along the way-- but with as little fuss and romance as possible. This book was no different, though post-WWII Germany is less exotic than her typical choice of setting.
So, formulaic? YES-- spelled out in flashing red light. Still enjoyable? Again, yes.
It seems that many found this a plodding read, but I thought it moved along at a decent clip. However, I do agree that some of the characters could've been better defined and developed. It took a while for me to differentiate between the Leslies and the Merediths (I think that was the name...), for instance.
The mystery kept me guessing through most of the book, and even though the romance element of these mysteries is
All in all, a pleasant read for the genre.
Random Tidbits (with SPOILERS):
--I appreciated the "cool, calm, and collected" Simon. The romance did move at break-neck speed-- jumping from a few significant looks and a soft gesture of affection to a proposal in the blink of an eye-- but at least Simon was likable.
--Part of the reason I didn't love Miranda at first is probably the gratuitous physical comparisons between herself and the older Stella. Did these authors think that their audience was made up of only the very youngest women-- or did they think that a thirty- or forty-something lady would like reading such comparisons? Maybe I was just feeling particularly sensitive about my age when I read the first chapters...
--Subsequent revelations explain most of it away, but Miranda's early reflections on Mademoiselle are so uncharitable that Miranda herself comes across as an unsympathetic character, for a while.
--Ah, one of my pet peeves! "'It's me,' said Miranda with a fine disregard for grammar." Mm-hmm, yes, dear. We know you know your grammar. Very well done! Have a cookie.
--"...Sally, whose reading seemed to be entirely of the escapist variety..." A bit catty, Miranda. And especially amusing considering what kind of book this is! You wouldn't be judging your own readers, would you, Ms. Kaye? How much of my reading is "allowed" to be escapist fluff before I'm relegated to the bubble-head class of woman? Book snobbery!! ;o)
--It does seem a little bit of a stretch that Stella would be so willing to kill Miranda-- and it's always hard to believe when a character has seemed mostly normal and been able to hide their insanity and/or wickedness successfully for so many years. However, it seems a necessary evil for this type of book. There's not much of a mystery if characters behave normally or aren't good at hiding their true nature.
--I'm seeing another trend in the "Death in..." books I've read so far... If I remember that when I start the next one, I'll be particularly suspicious of the protagonist's good friends.
--"I think I'll get some knitting. It's a nice, soothing occupation." Yes, there is something infinitely soothing about simple knitting or crochet!