Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Crocodile on the Sandbank, by Elizabeth Peters

Barbara Mertz, writing as Elizabeth Peters (inspired by her children, Elizabeth and Peter), began her Amelia Peabody series in 1975 with this book. River in the Sky, the 19th book in the series, was published in 2010. There are readers who began reading the series when the first book came out and still eagerly look forward to the next entry. And Amelia Peabody still draws new readers today. That's not a surprise.

After receiving a Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Chicago, Mertz raised a family instead of taking off for archaeological digs. The character of Amelia Peabody grew out of Mertz's love of Egypt. She began to live vicariously through Amelia, who was a 32-year-old woman in 1884 in Crocodile on the Sandbank. Amelia traveled to Egypt, fell in love with and married Radcliffe Emerson, an archaeologist. The characters age throughout the series. Amelia and Emerson, as she refers to him, raise their son, Ramses, who grows up, marries an Egyptian woman, Nefret, and has a child of his own. Ramses has his own adventures and intrigues in World War I. Eventually the series wends its way to the early 1920s. The Peabody-Emerson family lives a rich fictional life, and their trials and triumphs have won countless accolades and awards for their creator.

Despite having read and enjoyed several of the episodes, I had never read the first book. It was time to remedy that.

Obviously, there were some things that were not a surprise to me. This is the book in which Amelia and Emerson meet, and knowing that they wind up married didn't disturb my enjoyment of the will-they-or-won't-they subplot. It was fun to see Peters  give them their cat-and-mouse relationship without resorting to cute and trite descriptions and dialogue.

And speaking of vicarious … it was tremendous fun to visit an Egypt in which there were still hidden treasures to be discovered and the legendary Shepheard's Hotel in Cairo to stay in, to float down the Nile, and to see Cairo's pyramids surrounded by desert sands, not suburban housing.

Here is the story in a nutshell. Amelia inherits money. In 1884 England, she makes a decision to indulge her desire to travel and her love of Egyptology, which is more than just the current fad to her. On her trip of discovery, she rescues Evelyn, a destitute and disgraced English gentlewoman, who becomes her friend and travel companion. The two women meet the brothers Emerson who are involved in a dig to uncover an ancient, royal tomb. And away they go, replete with mummies who walk at midnight, curses, cobras, chaste romance, and nefarious villains.

Become beguiled by this charming story. Share it with everyone, because it is multi-generationally friendly. It is the ultimate escape.

Barbara Mertz celebrated her 83rd birthday last September. Here's to many more!

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