As I was looking for more books on CD to listen to in the car, I remembered The Crocodile on the Sandbank (1975) from an earlier Cannonball review. Fortunately there was no wait, and I was soon listening to the adventures of the intrepid Amelia Peabody and her friends in Egypt. Amelia Peabody is a fascinating character, a feisty feminist stifled by the Victorian times of 1884. Fortunately, she is primarily immune from society’s constraints through her independence of mind and means. When her father died, he left her enough money that she could live comfortably. At thirty-two years old, Amelia considers herself a happy spinster–lucky to not lose her property and independence through marriage.
And with this new independence, Amelia decides to travel to Egypt. Stopping in Rome on the way, Amelia’s companion falls ill, conveniently making room for a new companion whom Amelia presently meets: Evelyn Forbes is alone and friendless, cast out with nothing. Amelia finds her in a faint in the street, surrounded by tourists, and she kindly takes her home and gives her some food. Evelyn is beautiful, refined, and demure, but faces ruin because she ran away from her rich grandfather in England to elope with a skeevy Italian. The Italian had since taken everything of value and disappeared. A “fallen” woman in 1884 is not the best thing to be, and Evelyn gratefully accepts Amelia’s offer to accompany her to Egypt.
Evelyn and Amelia arrive in Egypt where Amelia discovers her love of pyramids and Evelyn unwillingly meets her skeevy Italian ex-lover. In addition, Evelyn’s cousin Lucas chases her down in Egypt, eager to tell her news of home and propose. But perhaps most importantly, the two women meet the Emerson brothers, Radcliffe and Walter. The Emerson brothers are in Egypt for a dig at an archaeological site, and the four meet up again away from Cairo. The majority of the action occurs at the Emerson brothers’ dig south of Cairo where there is a fearsome and dangerous mummy stalking the dig. Evelyn is busy falling in love with Walter, and Amelia is busy denying her attraction to Radcliffe.
This was a fun book primarily because of the unique heroine. Amelia is strong-willed and smart, and her unshakable confidence defies logic. Although her interactions with Radcliffe were sometimes a little too “war of the sexes” bickering, their attraction felt real and very sweet in the moment. The mystery was kind of easy to figure out, but part of me appreciated that Peters gave the reader enough information to figure things out on their own. Anyway, it was the interactions between the characters that made this book what it was. I knew I was going to enjoy this book when I heard Amelia’s reaction to Evelyn’s tragic story of her Italian lover. Instead of being horrified and throwing the fallen Evelyn out of her hotel, Amelia basically asks Evelyn, “So, how was it?”
This book was written in 1975 and still seems to be very well-liked, although I found a couple parts potentially dated. First, I couldn’t quite figure out whether it was purposeful to make Evelyn into the caricature of the perfect 19th Century woman. Evelyn is beautiful, ethereal, and fragile. She is loving, sweet, and noble and she spends most of the book fainting and being protected by those around her. I couldn’t help but like her, but her helplessness was extreme. Secondly, although this book mentions some of the negative effects of Colonialism on Egypt, it is first and foremost a story of the colonizers. Egyptians are secondary characters only. Although Amelia is very progressive for her time, she has no problem using the Egyptians to appropriate the art and artifacts for Britain.
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