Book Log #64: The Last Camel Died at Noon, by Elizabeth Peters

The Last Camel Died at Noon (Amelia Peabody, #6)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You really need to point at Book 6 of the Amelia Peabodies, The Last Camel Died at Noon, as one of the pivotal books of the series–because it’s here that arguably the most important character in the entire cast (aside from, of course, the Emersons themselves) is introduced. The Last Camel Died at Noon is the book that introduces Nefret, and it’s the tale of how the Emersons discover and rescue her from a lost civilization deep in the Sudan.

It’s this book as well where Peters starts throwing around references to H. Rider Haggard, and in particular, King Solomon’s Mines. Amelia harks back a lot to Haggard’s writing as she tells the reader all about what proves to be one of the Emersons’ most exotic adventures ever. Word comes to them that the explorer Willoughby Forth, long presumed to have been lost in the desert along with his young wife, may not actually have died–and that, moreover, the lost oasis they were seeking might actually exist. The Emersons are begged by Forth’s father and cousin to go in search of proof of his eventual fate; the Emersons being who they are, they agree. But the journey is deeply perilous, and after the deaths of their camels, abandonment by their men, and the threat of illness and thirst and heatstroke, they are rescued by the people of the very civilization Forth had set out to locate.

What happens when they get there–and how Nefret comes into it–I won’t say because that’d be hugely spoilerrific. Suffice to say that there is political and social intrigue, treachery from several quarters, and Amelia getting the biggest shock of her life when Ramses encounters someone who can actually make him shut up. Five stars.

Book Log #63: The Deeds of the Disturber, by Elizabeth Peters

The Deeds of the Disturber (Amelia Peabody, #5)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a series that’s famous for being primarily set in Egypt, The Deeds of the Disturber, Book 5 of the Amelia Peabodies, is quite distinctive in that it’s set in England during the off-season, when the Emerson family is between digs. It also has the good fortune of being my very favorite book involving Ramses as a child. Sure, that boy’s formidable even in Books 3 and 4, but here, put up against the odious Percy and Violet, the children of Amelia’s brother James, Ramses gets his first real stretch of character development.

You’d think that the Emersons being at home means they’d get a break from their detectival adventures, but you’d be wrong. There’s a new exhibit with a mummy at the British Museum, and of course there are Mysterious Persons showing up in ancient Egyptian garb causing disturbances at the exhibit. Worse yet, people have started to die at the museum, and rumors are beginning to fly about a curse. Cue the Emersons, even though Emerson himself is frantically trying to finish a manuscript. And even though Amelia has to juggle managing not only her husband and son, but also her niece and nephew, who have been unceremoniously thrust upon her by her brother. The redoubtable Amelia is hopeful that exposure to other children, “normal” children, might be good for Ramses–but it should surprise no reader of the series that things go very, very badly. Fights break out, accusations are hurled, and as is so often the case with young Master Ramses, things wind up on fire.

The Young Lovers Du Jour are a refreshing change of pace–none other than Kevin O’Connell, the Emersons’ simultaneously most liked and most hated reporter, and his rival, Miss Minton, who’ll stop at nothing to scoop him on the story of the curse at the museum. And it’s fun to see characters here that we don’t normally get to see in an Amelia Peabody novel, such as the Emersons’ England-based servants, all of whom take an inordinate amount of interest in the family affairs (Gargery, the butler, is Awesome). Emerson gets his obligatory Scenes of Being Heroically Wounded, not once but twice even, and there is even a mysterious woman from his past cropping up and giving Amelia cause for Grave Concern. Coming as we are off of Book 4, this is fun tension, given that the tables are now turned and Amelia has to have her own battles with doubt.

But really, read this for the excellent Ramses mileage! And keep an eye on that kid Percy, because we will be seeing him again! Five stars.

Book Log #62: Lion in the Valley, by Elizabeth Peters

Lion in the Valley (Amelia Peabody, #4)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you pick and choose only a selection of the Amelia Peabody books to read, one of your choices must indisputably be Lion in the Valley, book 4 of the series. This introduces one of the most critical recurring characters to show up all throughout the books: as Amelia herself likes to call him, that genius of crime, the Master Criminal, Sethos.

Thanks to events of the previous book, The Mummy Case, Emerson has secured permission to dig at the Black Pyramid in Dahshur. But as is always the case with the Emersons, their efforts are soon enough interrupted. Someone attempts to kidnap Ramses–and the man who helps rescue him proves to be an opium-addicted Englishman. Moreover, there’s a young woman on the run from an accusation of murder, and anyone who’s read any other book of the series should be able to quickly guess that there’s backstory with these two side characters, too.

But really, the main interest of this installment is Sethos, particularly when his romantic interest in Amelia comes to light. Look for the big ending, when the Master Criminal gets his shot at his main goal. Which is to say, Amelia herself. This’ll set up a lot of lovely interaction for later installments, as well as occasional fun tension between Amelia and Emerson. Also, Sethos himself is a fabulous anti-hero, sure to appeal to any fan of rakish thieves and gentleman rogues. Four stars.

Book Log #60: The Mummy Case, by Elizabeth Peters

The Mummy Case (An Amelia Peabody Mystery, #3)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once you get into Book 3 of the Amelia Peabody series, The Mummy Case, you start picking up steam for the long haul of the bulk of all these books. Hands down, the best aspect of it is that Amelia and Emerson’s young son Ramses joins them for the first time in Egypt, and therefore starts taking his place as a primary character in the family’s adventures. Much like with Book 2, though, aside from Ramses starting to become his catastrophically precocious self, the rest of this story doesn’t stand out as much for me plot-wise. There’s certainly plenty of intrigue surrounding the murder of an antiquities dealer and the disappearance and reappearance of a mummy case, as well as the usual colorful cast of characters that populates any Amelia Peabody adventure.

What really sells this one for me, though, is all the character interaction–particularly with Ramses. He’s still too twee as of this book, what with Peters still writing out all his dialogue with a lisp–but he starts exhibiting the tendencies that make him quite the little holy terror for his parents to raise. The bit with the lion in this book, in particular, is gold. I also absolutely adore that Ramses, in emulation of his parents, carries out his own tiny excavation that turns out to be quite a bit more important than either of his parents expect. Four stars.

Book Log #59: The Curse of the Pharoahs, by Elizabeth Peters

The Curse of the Pharaohs (Amelia Peabody, #2)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After the awesomeness that is Crocodile on the Sandbank, the mighty opening round of the Amelia Peabody series, a reader might wonder how Elizabeth Peters could possibly have packed more awesome into these books. The answer: by the introduction of Amelia and Emerson’s son, the “catastrophically precocious” Walter Peabody Emerson, better known by his nickname of Ramses.

The opening of this book remains one of my favorite bits in the entire series. It’s four years after the events of Book 1, and Amelia and Emerson have been staying at home in England raising their small son rather than risking him by a return to Egypt. In a quick little sequence of anecdotes, Amelia provides a delightful little portrait of exactly what this kid is like, from how he started to talk at a very early age to how he delighted in his father reading grisly accounts of mummies to him, and most of all in digging up bones out of the garden. He’s a bit too twee at this early age, though, as his dialogue is written out with some baby pronunication that makes him a bit hard to read. I was cheerfully willing to overlook that though for the giggle factor of young Ramses interrupting a tea party his mother is having–by bringing Amelia a particularly filthy femur, and horrifying all the other women present. Muaha.

Sadly, Ramses is not actually much in this book. The main gist of the plot involves one Lady Baskerville coming to beg Emerson for assistance, for her husband, himself a well-known excavator, has died in the middle of digging into a new tomb. Lady Baskerville wants Emerson to continue the job–and if at all possible, to investigate the mystery of her husband’s death and other strange circumstances that have surrounded their entire dig. And it’s certainly an entertaining mystery, notable for setting up a lot of the standard elements of an Amelia Peabody book: murder, a budding young romance, and someone (or multiple someones) being attracted passionately to Emerson! One other plot element is introduced here as well that will resonate through several of the following novels: the Emersons’ acqusition of the cat Bastet.

So even though the main plot doesn’t stand out for me as much as with the rest of the series, there are still a whole bunch of important things introduced here that set up books to come. For this one, four stars.

Book Log #58: Crocodile on the Sandbank, by Elizabeth Peters

Crocodile on the Sandbank (An Amelia Peabody Mystery, #1)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my all-time favorite authors is Elizabeth Peters, a.k.a. Barbara Michaels–and of her many, many works, my all-time favorite hands down is the Amelia Peabody series. Which starts off with a mighty roar in Crocodile on the Sandbank, a book I can go back to again and again. And do!

For those of you unfamiliar with the series, they’re the adventures of a husband and wife team of Egyptologists, set in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. Book 1 introduces spinster Amelia Peabody, who has set out to tour Egypt following the death of her father and her inheritance of a quite credible fortune from him. During her travels, she takes lovely young Evelyn Forbes under her wing, and the two of them join forces to see the great sites of Egypt.

Cue introduction to the Emerson brothers, Walter and Radcliffe–though the latter detests his given name, and from this book and all throughout the series, he is known to the reader as simply Emerson. Walter’s a gentle and charming fellow, in direct contrast to his obstreperous brother. It should be no surprise to anyone that Evelyn takes to Walter, while Amelia herself clashes with Emerson. And this, my children, lays down the beginning of a long and lively relationship.

Amelia and Emerson are absolutely stunning together. Emerson is bullheaded, tactless, and rude, and has no patience whatsoever for interfering females–while Amelia will have absolutely none of this nonsense, and gives Emerson back every bit as good as he puts forth. That their relationship really gets underway when she has to nurse him out of severe illness should not be taken as anything so plebian as the standard “heroine must nurse hero back to health” romance trope–because Peters plays it splendidly.

As if this weren’t enough (and it’s quite a bit of awesome), there is of course a mystery to solve. Not long after Amelia and Evelyn take up with the Emersons, the dig site at which they’re working is visited by nothing less than what seems to be an ambulatory mummy. There’s murder, assault, and shady suitors. I love it all. I love it all so much. (heart)

The story’s written in first person, with the schtick that it’s the first of Amelia’s many journals, written during her lifetime. Peters gives her a very florid style (Amelia is quite fond of repeatedly mentioning Emerson’s “sapphirine” eyes, for example), but given that Peters is deliberately paying homage to H.R. Haggard and similar authors, it’s very much in theme for what she’s doing. So stick with it, and look out to the end for the inevitable proposal of marriage scene, which ranks as one of my favorite marriage proposals in a novel ever.

And trust me, it’s so very much not a spoiler that Amelia and Emerson get married. In fact, I adore that they go straight to getting married, and clear the way for the length of the series to focus on their married life and their adventures together. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you can’t base a series on a married couple, folks–because Amelia and her beloved Emerson say otherwise. And you don’t want to argue with a woman with a parasol! Five stars.