My mom and I shared a love of Ancient Egypt, mythology and archaeology. She was a big fan of Elizabeth Peters mysteries, and I have had a few of the paperbacks from her mystery novel collection buried in my to-read piles for years. I finally decided to dig them out and give Peters a try.
The first novel in the series, Crocodile on the Sandbank, introduces readers to her Victorian-era heroine, Amelia Peabody. Amelia is a no-nonsense, feisty woman who has also inherited an interest in Ancient Egypt (and a sizable amount of cash) from her father. She sets off to see the world and sail the Nile, and takes along a companion, the impoverished but intelligent Evelyn Forbes. The two ladies quickly find themselves immersed in some strange goings-on at an archaeological dig at Amarna (the city of Pharaoh Akhenaten), where they also meet two interesting men – the crusty but handsome Egyptologist Radcliffe Emerson and his brother Walter, who specializes in translating ancient Egyptian texts. Adventure and romance ensue.
The mystery and the entire mood of the novel is light in the extreme. Amelia’s own acerbic sense of humor pervades the story, as she narrates the tale, as does her initially reluctant advances towards romance. Crocodile on the Sandbank is a fun, cozy historical mystery with an interesting setting that sets up the series of books to come. I decided to plug on. I have made it so far through the first seven novels, but have had to take a break. As much as I like Amelia and Emerson (as he prefers to be called) and their ever-evolving relationship (which can become at times, quite steamy) and adventures, sometimes the Victorian whimsy gets a bit much. I particularly get a little tired of Emerson’s predictably macho and competitive behavior towards his wife. As much as Peters makes clear that he values her intelligence as much as her body (of which he is definitely, continually enamored), his perpetually gruff exterior and useless attempts to prevent Amelia from becoming embroiled in a mystery or dangerous situations wears a bit thin on this reader. I think this might be the result of reading (or listening on audiobook) to too many Amelia Peabody books in a row. I think this series could become a great guilty pleasure, if spaced out a bit more.
The books in the series that I have read so far:
Crocodile on the Sandbank (1975) – described above
The Curse of the Pharaohs (1981) – Amelia and Emerson travel from England to the Valley of the Kings, where they become embroiled in the mysterious death of Lord Baskerville, who died shortly after opening a tomb. They also meet the very wealthy American Egyptologist Cyrus Vandergelt and the pesky but helpful reporter Kevin O’Connell, who both becoming recurring characters in the series.
The Mummy Case (1985) – Amelia tries to unravel the mystery of a papyrus scrap that she has discovered, while Emerson tries to avoid a suspicious group of American missionaries who have settled near their current dig-site.
Lion in the Valley (1986) – Amelia and Emerson are in Dashur, where Amelia can finally explore a true pyramid (she is obsessed with pyramids) as well as, of course, encounter danger.
The Deeds of the Disturber (1988) – This is an interesting entry in the series, as it takes place completely in England, although there are Egyptian antiquity-related mysteries that the pair must try to solve involving the British Museum.
The Last Camel Died at Noon (1991) – This book takes a different direction. Less a mystery novel, or even about Egyptology, than an old-timey action-adventure novel. The author’s note admits that she wanted to write a book (spoof) of such classics as King Solomon’s Mines. That’s not really my cup of tea, so I enjoyed this one and its setting (a lost village in Nubia) far less than the others I have read so far.
The Snake, the Crocodile and the Dog (1992) – A twist on the damsel in distress trope, as Amelia must find and rescue Emerson, who has been kidnapped and, who, conveniently, seems to have amnesia … This one did it for me, as I needed a break after all of the action-adventure hijinks.
I will probably continue on, albeit at a much slower pace (there are twenty novels in the series, after all). Maybe I’ll start the next book in the series, The Hippopotamus Pool (1996), sometime during the upcoming holiday break.