Monday, September 9, 2013

Crocodile on the Sandbank

Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody #1)Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Independent spinster Amelia Peabody and her friend Evelyn Barton-Forbes came to Egypt to view the antiquities - but when they are stalked by a mummy Amelia suspects it may be a non-supernatural ghost from Evelyn's checkered past.

The unstoppable Amelia Peabody impulsively rescues Evelyn Barton-Forbes, abandoned and ruined by a faithless lover, from a street in Italy. She then hires the disgraced heiress as a companion on a trip to Egypt, and they become close friends. Floating down the Nile, the women meet two archaeologist brothers: handsome Walter Emerson and short-tempered Radcliffe Emerson. When they join the Emersons at their dig site, the group is stalked by a mummy. Yeah, a MUMMY.
Of course, Amelia is too sensible to succumb to superstition for long, but she suspects the human behind the mummy poses a tangible threat to Evelyn's safety. With a firm grip on her parasol and her wits, Amelia attempts to solve the mystery. All the while Evelyn and Walter are falling in love, star-crossed by noble Evelyn's sense of her own dishonor as well as the persistent attentions of her cousin, Lord Lucas Ellesmere. Amelia keeps herself busy bossing everyone around and getting into heated arguments with Radcliffe (who is her equal in every way, a love interest along Mr. Rochester lines) about archaeology.

I have a soft sport the affable Lucas, who cheerfully goes out of his way to offend everyone. Even prickly Amelia has to struggle to maintain a steady dislike of him. He's a more interesting character than both Walter and Evelyn combined - the latter two play the fated lovers role with a hysterical intensity (but true sincerity) that makes Amelia scoff inwardly more than once (as much as she genuinely likes them both).

The solution to the mystery seemed obvious at once, though it's such an outrageously weird scheme that Amelia quickly points out that only a European mind packed with Gothic novels could have come up with it. Overall, a fun adventure and historical cozy mystery. It's the first in the Amelia Peabody series, which I will definitely keep reading!

Amelia is the clear forerunner of Alexis Tarabotti from Gail Carriger's The Parasol Protectorate: tough, smart, and outspoken. (And both end up in Egypt!) Elizabeth Peters is the pen name of Barbara Mertz, who died in August of this year. She wrote 70 books, all starring wonderful female characters, and was an Egyptologist herself.

For other great cozy mysteries, try the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy Sayers, starting with Whose Body? You might also check out the Victorian historical mystery And Only to Deceive (Lady Emily series) by Tasha Alexander.

“I disapprove of matrimony as a matter of principle.... Why should any independent, intelligent female choose to subject herself to the whims and tyrannies of a husband? I assure you, I have yet to meet a man as sensible as myself!” - says Amelia

“There are too many people in the world as it is, but the supply of ancient manuscripts is severely limited.” - according to Radcliffe Emerson, Amelia's grumpy soulmate

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