One of the things I miss most about not having my bookshop is all the reading I got to do. Basically it was my job to read – not just all the new releases, but also the older books that I’d never read before, that I needed to know about so I could recommend new books for our customers.
Enter Elizabeth Peters …
Before setting up the shop, I did a tour of specialist mystery and sf bookshops in the US. That was in the good old days, before the wholesale slaughter of independent booksellers undertaken by the big new chains Borders and Barnes and Noble. Back then independent specialists thrived and I had a whale of a time visiting a bunch of them, chatting to book-loving enthusiasts who knew their niche genre inside out and back to front.
It was one of these great people, in Washington DC, who introduced me to Elizabeth Peters and her amazing, incomparable sleuth Amelia Peabody. As far as I can find out, that bookshop has folded … and, so very very sad, Elizabeth Peters has left the stage too. But what a legacy she left those of us who love exciting, witty, adventurous historical mysteries.
The Amelia Peabody series runs to nineteen volumes, the early volumes in paperback and the later volumes in both hardcover and paperback release. My love for these books can be noted by the fact that as soon as the books started coming out in hardcover, I bought them in hardcover, even though they were more expensive. My list of Must Have in Hardcover authors isn’t long!
So. We meet the redoubtable Amelia Peabody in Crocodile on the Sandbank, which takes place in the year 1884. Amelia, respectable Victorian spinster, is the only daughter of a wealthy, reclusive and absent-minded scholar. His death leaves her alone (save for her despised brothers, all married) and in possession of a useful fortune. Not at all interested in the domestic tyranny of marriage, Amelia decides to live her dream – travel to distant, mysterious and romantic Egypt. On the way she acquires a female companion who soon becomes the sister she never had. Together they plunge into the delights of independence and exploration … but life hasn’t finished surprising Amelia Peabody. Shortly after she and Evelyn arrive in Cairo, she crosses paths with one irascible, irresistible Radcliffe Emerson, Egyptologist extraordinaire, and his younger, sweeter brother Walter.
And so the stage is set for murder, mayhem and the romance of the century!
Amelia Peabody is one of the most singular female sleuths ever created. She’s fearless and redoubtable, a warrior for justice who’s sublimely unaware of her own personal idiosyncrasies. Emerson is her match in every way – and as for their son, Rameses …
But I don’t want to spoil the surprises.
Peters is a fabulous storyteller. Herself an historian and scholar, she brilliantly weaves history and Egyptology into her narratives, bringing the Victorian world and historical Egypt vividly to life. Through Amelia’s eyes we experience the giddy excitement of those early days of exploration, before the marvellous discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb, and meet an amazing array of characters – master criminals and devious femme fatales and wonderful Egyptians who become closer than family. As time passes in the extended narrative we witness other great world events, always with Amelia’s particular, singular viewpoint.
The Amelia Peabody remains one of my favourite mystery series, ever. If you haven’t read them, and you love historical mysteries, I highly recommend Crocodile on the Sandbank as a place to start!