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This is the first of many books based around the heroine Amelia Peabody, and set in late-19th century Egypt. Blending romance, Egyptology, and detective fiction, these books combine some of my favourite things; I'm a student of Egyptology myself, and I love historical detective stories!
Amelia's story begins with her travelling around Europe following the death of her father, and her inheritance of his fortune. In Rome, she picks up a travelling companion, Evelyn Barton-Forbes, who has been cruelly abandoned by her lover. Together, they travel to Egypt where they first encounter the irascible Egyptologist, Radcliffe Emerson, and his brother Walter, in the Cairo Museum. This first encounter is not promising, but it is not the last the two ladies have seen of this pair. When travelling down the Nile, they stop off at the site of Amarna, currently being excavated by none other than the Emerson brothers. Though initially unwelcome, Amelia and Evelyn are forced to stop when Emerson is suddenly taken ill, as Amelia has some knowledge of medicine. However, events take a more sinister turn when the site becomes plagued by apparitions of an Egyptian mummy, and Evelyn's caddish cousin, Lucas, turns up with a proposal of marriage. Amelia and Emerson must overcome their natural enmity to get to the bottom of these mysteries...
Amelia is one of my favourite fictional characters; an independent woman with feminist principles, who is determined not to let patriarchal Victorian society get in her way, she carries the story with aplomb. This does not mean the male characters are relegated to the sidelines, however, for Emerson is just as fiery, although there is a more tender side to him, which he does his best to hide. Together, they make a compelling leading pair. Walter and Evelyn are slightly less well developed, but perhaps provide a calmer foil to the tempers of the two lead characters. The plot itself is perhaps not overly original, but is written with such style that this is forgiveable. One of the things I love most about this series is the historical details; famous Egyptologists of the period are referenced, and Emerson is partially based on Flinders Petrie, one of the greatest Egyptologists to ever work there. This is not just a mystery story, but one surrounded by period details. The author is an Egyptologists herself, so the excavations are perfectly portrayed; indeed, I sometimes want to keep reading about the excavations, and get just as frustrated as Emerson does at all the intrusions into his work! The style of writing is reminiscent of Victorian adventure stories, with H. Rider Haggard's work being a particular inspiration. This means that it may be a little too flowery and romanticised for some, but I personally think this style works very well in this context. For anyone with the slightest interest in Ancient Egypt, early excavations in Egypt, or just old-fashioned detective stories, I would highly recommend this.
Now this is my first adult book review so please be gentle with me as I try to get a blance between trying to tell you all about the book without giving the plot away.
I started to read the Elizabeth Peters books several years ago and got hooked on her amusing style of writing which I think is very mischievous and tongue in cheek. She has written several books and different series including the Amelia Peabody mysteries of which Crocodile on the Sandbank is the first. She has also written a series called the Vicky Bliss mysteries
About the Author
Now Elizabeth Peters is a nom de plume and her real name is Barbara G. Mertz
This is her blurb from her internet site about herself
"Barbara G. Mertz studied at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, receiving an M.A. in 1950 and a Ph.D. in Egyptology in 1952. In 1950 she married Richard Mertz and had two children, Elizabeth and Peter. She was divorced in 1969. A past president of American Crime Writers League, she presently serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of KMT, A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt. She is also a member of the Egypt Exploration Society and the James Henry Breasted Circle of the Oriental Institute. Under her own name she is the author of Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs, A Popular history of Ancient Egypt and Red Land, Black Land, Daily Life in Ancient Egypt. Under her pseudonym as Barbara Michaels she has written twenty nine novels of suspense. As Elizabeth Peters, she has produced thirty seven mystery-suspense novels, many of them set in Egypt and the Middle East. Dr. Mertz was awarded a D.H.L. from Hood College in 1989. The Mystery Writers of America awarded her the MWA Grandmaster in 1998. She has also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Malice Domestic and the Grandmaster Award from Bouchercon. "
This is the first book in the Amelia Peabody series of which there are now 18 books. This is the first time we meet Amelia or as she is know to Radclife Emerson "Peabody"
The synopsis of the book is as follows
When strong-willed Amelia Peabody's studious father dies, Amelia decides to use her ample inheritance to travel. After rescuing a gentlewoman (Evelyn Barton-Forbes) in considerable distress, the two become friends and Amelia hires Evelyn to be her companion on the next leg of her trip, which takes them to Egypt. There Amelia encounters mysteries, missing mummies, and Radclife Emerson, an opinionated archaeologist who doesn't need a woman's help to solve the mystery--or so he thinks.
A bit about the main characters
Amelia Peabody, the protagonist, is strong-minded, outspoken, and something of a Victorian super-heroine really she is the uber-Victorian feminist. She takes the stuffy world of archaeology by storm with her no nonsense dress sense which we hear more about as the series continues she has very forthright opinions which she makes no bones about expressing.
Radclife, an intelligent but belligerent archeologist who soon realizes he's met his match in Amelia. He comes across as a very gruff but You warm to him very quickly Least I did as a woman I think he is designed and written to appeal as a strong but gentle gentleman who also as a strong sense of right and wrong and he is always right till Amelia tells him other wise! His Egyptian name is "father of curses," and at first he is viewed as only tender to a sarcophagus
This is Radcliff's more studies brother and he is seen as the foil, sounding board and quieter half of the pair, his character through out the series does develop but at lot less so than many of the others
She starts off very much the swooning waif but develops with Amelia's help a bit of back bone and resolve
These books are an enchantment and if you haven't read any of them you should start right now. They take you back to the days of gentle living. Where everything stops for tea and of course it would be unimaginable and breaking so many rules if the men not to dress for dinner. I love the way Elizabeth Peters conjures up the day to day life of the Victoria aristocracy abroad with a gentle wit and whimsy. If you're looking for a thriller/mystery, then this isn't it; this is no gritty real life drama as in an Ian Rankin Novel. But if you want an entertaining, funny, well-written novel with great characters and a sense of humor then this is a book to read. I have read all the novels in the series from my local library more than once and I am gradually buying the books now to reread as I find them so entertaining and amusing. My husband has often picked up one of the books I am reading and read parts of it himself and asks what is Amelia up to know. This is a great deal of suspension of belief and the plots do twist and turn but thats part of the charm
Acclaim for the book
"Dastardly deeds, whirlwind romances, curious mummies and all the fun and intrigue of Egyptian excavations, with a heroine who wields a sturdy parasol rather than a magnum. Accomplished entertainment." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this
Paperback: 318 pages
Publisher: Robinson Publishing (25 May 2006)
You can buy the book currently from Amazon priced at 5.49
Since I had to suggest this book to Dooyoo in order to write a review, I'm going to go out on a limb here, and guess that not that many people are familar with Elizabeth Peters' work. Which suits me just fine, as I LOVE her books, and can happily put off essay marking for half an hour to ramble about them.
Elizabeth Peters - the authoress
Elizabeth Peters is the pen-name of the Egyptologist Barbara Mertz. Whilst Mertz isn't the best published or most academically lauded of scholars, she is trained, and this shows in her Amelia Peabody series, of which this is the first book. As one who is two months (aaaaarrrggghhhh!!) away from the end of a PhD in Egyptology, I can assure you that there are a lot of details in the series which are spot on, and a number of 'in-jokes' which you'll easily pick up on.
The Amelia Peabody series isn't her only project; she also writes the Vicky Bliss series, featuring the erstwhile Dr Bliss, an historian, in her journeys around the world in search of lost art treasures. I've read the first of these, and whilst they don't occupy the place in my heart that Amelia does, they look to be awesome as well.
In addition, she has written a lot of books under the name Barbara Michaels, explaining why she is sometimes referred to as MPM (Mertz, Peters, Michaels). I haven't got to these yet, but I will, no doubt.
As mentioned above, this book is the first in the 18-strong series featuring the redoubtable Amelia, spanning the years 1884-1922.
Reputedly based on the character of Amelia Edwards, the first lady Egyptologist, and founder of the Egypt Exploration Fund, Amelia epitomizes the late Victorian spirit of emancipation and progress, whilst occasionally being endearingly modest.
In this book, we are first introduced to Evelyn Barton-Forbes, whom Amelia rescues and who will play a significant, if not always consistent part in the rest of the series.
We also meet Radcliffe and Walter Emerson, who are brothers, and Egyptologists, and who play essential roles in the rest of the series.
From these, and the Vicky Bliss book I've read, it's clear that Peters rejoices in voicing strong, attractive, independent female characters, who have eccentric but firm opinions, a vigorous and no-nonsense approach, and hearts the size of pyramids. As a female academic, I absolutely revel in this; particularly in the fact that Amelia never gives up her career, or feels she has to compete with men - she just assumes she is better than most of them anyway.
Amelia Peabody, a spinster lady of independent means, and forthright habits, decides to use the money left to her by her father to see the world. She begins in Rome, where she rescues the genteelly impoverished and unfortunate Evelyn Barton-Forbes, and together they make for Egypt, deciding there that the rest of the world is probably overrated, and they won't go any further! This is partly due to the Emerson brothers....
From their first meeting in the Cairo Museum, to the romantic site of el-Amarna in Middle Egypt, Amelia's journey becomes entangled with Emerson's, and together they face the first of many enemies, bent on theft and destruction.
Now, I won't give too much away, but if you read the blurbs of other books in the series, it's pretty obvious that the two main characters are meant for one another.
Whilst this sounds like your typical 'historical setting, detective/mystery novel with romance thrown in' (damn I love books like that!), what keeps the series alive is the ever-changing relationships between Amelia and her compatriots. Peters is an expert at drawing a scene deftly, without going into too much detail, or overloading the prose.
Each novel has basically the same premise - an Egyptologically-themed mystery/murder (or, as Abdullah would say "Every year, another body" - read it, you'll see what I'm talking about); Peters is clearly alive to the danger of this becoming dull and repetitive, and is mistress of sub-plots and over-arching plots that span several books. She also has a knack for drawing some of the most attractive characters in fiction - I'm half in love with three of the male characters, and I'd put Amelia in any fantasy dinner party line-up you care to mention.
I heartily recommend the Peabody books to everyone I meet. If you have read the Lindsey Davis 'Falco' series, or George MacDonald Fraser 'Flashman' series, you will certainly like them. I own every one, and can't wait for the next (if there's going to be a next - Peters has always said she would end with the 1922 Tutankhamun discovery, which was featured in the last book....)
The books are currently being reissued with new covers (obviously, I don't like these as much, because I'm British, and we have to hate change...), and are available from Amazon.
This one starts at £5.49 new, or £0.01 used.
Did I mention I love these books? (-;