ness talks books

crocodile on the sandbank: amelia is single until she isn’t

Let’s pretend I haven’t taken a long hiatus from this blog (HI HOW ARE YOU FORGIVE ME), and let me tell you about the first book from a series that I would happily tattoo on my body. (Though, because such real estate is limited, I’ll just write about it here.) It’s the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters AKA Barbara Mertz and it is most excellent.

Amelia Peabody inherited two things from her father: a considerable fortune and an unbendable will. The first allowed her to indulge in her life’s passion. Without the second, the mummy’s curse would have made corpses of them all. 

goodreads blurb

This is … the beginning of everything. And I think, once you’ve read the whole series, it’s very much worth coming back to reread this one. You will gain an entirely new perspective. Different interactions will take on a great more worth and meaning once you’ve seen how everything plays out.

CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK

I must admit – I view this book through rose-tinted glasses. With fond eyes. That sort of thing – but if you read this and think oh there’s stuff that I like but other things that are a little meh (cough the mummy cough) then continue on with the series because let me promise you: it only gets better. Everything is up from here. All the stuff you love will be present IN SPADES. Yes. I love this series. No, I don’t have any chill.

THE MYSTERY

There’s a curse! There’s a mummy haunting the archaeological camp! What will we do?? When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout! (I’m a poet …)

“Stop,” he ordered, in a low but compelling voice. “Do not take another step, or I fire! Dash it,” he added vexedly, “does the monstrosity understand English? How absurd this is!”

“It understands the gesture, at least,” I called, thrusting head and shoulders through the window. “Lucas, for pity’s sake, seize it! Don’t stand there deriding its linguistic inadequacies!”

It’s fun. Is it A++ Agatha-Christie-wishes-she-could-write-this? No. It’s not. It’s good, but it’s not great. But I’m not here for the mystery in this one. I’m here for the characters. More specifically, I’m here for Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson.

THE ROMANCE

Amelia starts off single as the last pringle in a pringle tube. She meets Emerson who is … cares for two things: his brother, Walter, and Egyptology. (And not necessarily in that order.) He is handsome. He is tall. He blusters. He immediately starts a battle of wits with Amelia.

Emerson: You, asking for advice? Let me feel your brow, Peabody, I am sure you must be fevered.

EMERSON, A MAN AMONG MILLIONS

It’s a delight to read. I adore it. I subscribe. This is my cup of tea. This waters all the crops I don’t have.

God help the poor mummy who encounters you, Peabody,” he said bitterly. “We ought to supply it with a pistol, to even the odds.

EMERSON, A MAN IN LOVE AND TERRIFIED BY IT

But for those who view his behaviour as Not Nice and excessively boorish, let it be known that he has Peabody’s number and his bark is worse than his bite. He might protest plenty but methinks he protests too much. Also he saves her life from a VERY DEADLY SNAKE and suffers a great deal of worry that he immediately tries to hide.

(He’s Victorian and they are all emotionally constipated. DON’T WORRY – WE WILL HAVE CHARACTER GROWTH.)

which they will handle with grace and aplomb

If you read ‘Amelia Peabody’s Egypt’ – you’ll find that there’s some excerpts from his own journal regarding these events. It’s perfectly delicious.

But let it not be said that Amelia doesn’t give as good as she gets. Forget the mystery, this book is really a tale of two people who are incurably fascinated with each other – and do their best to a) annoy each other and b) hide it in the midst of a potentially life-threatening situation.

I looked Emerson up and down. The clinical appraisal annoyed him, as I had known it would; he squirmed like a guilty schoolboy …

AMELIA PEABODY, EVERYONE

They are entirely suited to each other and – for the rest of the series – they are On Each Others Side. Married. Deeply In Love. But for this first book? We get to witness all the sparks flying. All of ’em. We get to see them reluctantly falling ever deeper in love.

There’s a secondary romance which is very Victorian-esque and suitably dramatic (but in the best way)

“To Walter! May he make Evelyn as happy as she deserves – or I will deal with him!”

“Spoken with characteristic tact,” said Emerson under his breath.

AMELIA PEABODY, EXCELLENT AT TOASTS

So while this book isn’t the very, very best of the series, it’s still good, it’s Elizabeth Peters finding her writing legs. This has to walk, so the rest can run and prod everyone with a parasol. This is the origin story so that we can have the other adventures. And in true, origin story style, it even starts with a dead parent. (*Batman has joined the chat*)

happy reading!

Quotables

Murderers, Dead Bodies and Overthrowing the Government – Quotables

I went to America … and read twelve books of the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters (as you do). I wrote down several amusing quotations. (I would be sitting in a chair and giggling. Yes, people noticed. No, I didn’t mind. My humour was tickled, you see, and when my humour is tickled nothing short of a giggle or a smile will do to indulge it,)

Lion in the Valley (Amelia Peabody, #4)Ordinarily I would agree with your premise, Peabody – that there cannot be many individuals in Egypt who yearn to make off with Ramses – but I have learned to my sorrow, we seem to attract criminals as a dog attracts fleas. I should feel hurt if we had fewer than five or six murderers after us.

– Lion in the Valley

Abdullah clapped his hand to his brow. “Not a dead man, sitt. Not another dead man … ” A flicker of reviving hope returned to his stricken brow. “Is it a mummy you mean, sitt? An old man?”

– Lion in the Valley

… and the same commentator remarked, “It is the Sitt Hakim. No doubt she will cut off the man’s arm,” to which his companion replied eagerly, “Lean back so that I can see better”

– also Lion in the Valley.

“Well, of course,” Emerson said virtuously. “That is my method. Tact, subtle persuasion.”

“Such as calling Mr Budge a rascal and threatening to knock him flat?”8268480

– Hippopotamus Pool

If all else fails, we will simply have to drug our attendants, overpower the guards, raise the oppressed peasants to arms and take over the government

– The Last Camel Died at Noon

I greatly enjoyed reading some of this series. If you are looking for a husband-and-wife archaeologist/mystery-solvin’ team that has plenty of wit and action and a fair dose of history (the author had a PhD in Egyptology after all) then check these books out. And you don’t even need to travel half-way across the world to read them. Like me. If you fancy reading the ebook version, the entire series is £0.77 per book on Amazon, so it isn’t dear at all.

Is there objectionable content? One of the things that marred my reading of the later books was the occasional use of Christ’s name as a swear word which for me, as a Christian, is blasphemous and jarring. But the character who uses it (to illustrate his new maturity? Adulthood? Je ne sais pas) … just,  read one of the earlier books in the series, when he is just a wee laddie. Next to William Brown (of Just William fame), he is my new Favourite Fictional Child. The End.