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REVIEW: Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

crocodile-on-the-sandbankDear Ms. Peters:

Not since I discovered the JD Robb In Death series have I enjoyed such a rich reading glom as I am now with the Amelia Peabody books. There is a particular pleasure in discovering a series well after its inception, knowing that you can glut on an enormous amount of story development in a comparatively condensed period of time (and since this series is almost as old as I am and still going strong, it's an added bonus). And thanks to Twitter and various book bloggers, authors, and fellow readers, several months ago I purchased the first Amelia Peabody book, Crocodile on the Sandbank, which proved an incredible pleasure to read. While I know there are many who are already familiar with the long-running adventures of the eccentric Amelia Peabody and her ever-growing family of Egyptologists (and cats), I cannot help but share my specific enthusiasm for this book and the series as a whole.

We first meet Amelia Peabody in Italy, 1884, where she is in the midst of a long trip, which is to include a sojourn in Egypt. A thirty-two year old heiress spinster, Amelia is frustrated because her traveling companion is too sick to proceed and having spent so much time alone taking care of her sick father, Amelia wants someone with whom to share the adventure. Therefore, it is both "fortuitous and fortunate," as Amelia says, that she meets a young woman named Evelyn Barton-Forbes, even though their first introduction occurs after Evelyn has fallen in a dead faint, right in the middle of the Forum in Rome.

A slim, athletic woman with jet-black hair and gray eyes, Amelia fancies herself plain and rather modest in bearing and character. We understand early on that this woman is anything but:

I had left my hotel that morning in considerable irritation of spirits. My plans had gone awry. I am not accustomed to having my plans go awry. Sensing my mood, my small Italian guide Piero was not silent when I first encountered him, in the lobby of the hotel, where, in common with others of his kind, he awaited the arrival of helpless foreign visitors in need of a translator and guide. I selected him from amid the throng because his appearance was a trifle less villainous than that of the others.

I was well aware of the propensity of these fellows to bully, cheat, and otherwise take advantage of the victims who employ them, but I had no intention of being victimized. It did not take me long to make this clear to Piero. My first act was to bargain ruthlessly with the shopkeeper to whom Piero took me to buy silk. The final price was so low that Piero's commission was reduced to a negligible sum. He expressed his chagrin to his compatriot in his native tongue, and included in his tirade several personal comments on my appearance and manner. I let him go on for some time and then interrupted with a comment on his manners. I speak Italian, and understand it, quite well. After that Piero and I got on admirably. I had not employed him because I required an interpreter, but because I wanted someone to carry parcels and run errands.

So it should be no surprise that when Amelia comes upon the prostrate, pale form of Evelyn in the Forum, she immediately commits to overseeing Evelyn's recovery and to providing shelter and protection to the woman, especially after understanding the series of events leading to Evelyn's collapse. For Evelyn is the once-beloved granddaughter of an earl, but she was seduced and drawn away from her home by an Italian "drawing master," who turned out to be nothing more than a fortune-hunting scoundrel. Abandoning Evelyn after burning through the money her jewels brought, the shame and destitution leave the young woman determined to take her own life – although at the last minute she could not go through with it. Convinced of her unworthiness and cowed by Amelia's kindness to her, Evelyn can scarcely believe that Amelia would want her to become her traveling companion (and she's absolutely stunned at Amelia's curiosity about the pleasure of her "ruination"), but as she will soon learn, Amelia is not ruled by social convention or a wishy-washy disposition.

Thus when Evelyn and Amelia arrive in Cairo, they secure a boat on which they will travel the Nile for the next few months. Of course the dahabeeyah must be outfitted properly for the women's comfort and cleanliness, which means that they spend a considerable time in Cairo, during which they visit the local museum, which Amelia immediately determines should be subject to more "neatness and order." At which point both Amelia and Evelyn’s lives change forever, although at the time they cannot anticipate the significance of their fateful encounter with Radcliffe and Walter Emerson, two of the most prominent Egyptologists and brothers of decidedly complementary appearance and temperament. And here I must quote a substantial section of the meeting, as it represents so perfectly the characters and relationships that form the foundation of the entire series:

We had penetrated into a back room filled with objects that seemed to be leftovers from the more impressive exhibits in the front halls of the museum – vases, bead necklaces, little carved ushebti figures, flung helter-skelter onto shelves and into cases. There were several other people in the room. I paid them little heed; in mounting indignation, I went on, "They might as least dust! Look at this!"

And, picking up a blue-green statuette from a shelf, I rubbed it with my handkerchief and showed Evelyn the dirty smudge that resulted.

A howl – a veritable animal howl – shook the quiet of the room. Before I could collect myself to search for its source, a whirlwind descended upon me. A sinewy, sun-bronzed hand snatched the statuette from me. A voice boomed in my ear.

"Madam! Do me the favor of leaving those priceless relics alone. It is bad enough to see that incompetent ass, Maspero, jumble them about; will you complete his idiocy by destroying the fragments he has left?"

Evelyn had retreated. I stood alone. Gathering my dignity, I turned to face my attacker.

He was a tall man with shoulders like a bull's and a black beard cut square like those of the statues of ancient Assyrian kings. From a face tanned almost to the shade of an Egyptian, vivid blue eyes blazed at me. His voice, as I had good cause to know, was a deep, reverberating bass. The accents were those of a gentleman. The sentiments were not.

"Sir," I said, looking him up and down. "I do not know you – "

"But I know you, madam! I have met your kind too often – the rampageous British female at her clumsiest and most arrogant. Ye gods! The breed covers the earth like mosquitoes, and is as maddening. The depths of the pyramids, the heights of the Himalayas – no spot on earth is safe from you!"

He had to pause for breath at this point, which gave me the opportunity I had been waiting for.

"And you, sire, are the lordly British male at his loudest and most bad-mannered. If the English gentlewoman is covering the earth, it is in the hope of counteracting some of the mischief her lord and master has perpetrated. Swaggering, loud, certain of his own superiority …"

My adversary was maddened, as I had hoped he would be. Little flecks of foam appeared on the blackness of his beard. His subsequent comments were incomprehensible, but several fragile objects vibrated dangerously on their shelves.

I stepped back a pace, taking a firm grip on my parasol. I am not easily cowed, nor am I a small woman; but this man towered over me, and the reddening face he had thrust into mine was suggestive of violence. He had very large, very white teeth, and I felt sure I had gotten a glimpse of most of them. A hand fell on his shoulder. Looking up, I saw Evelyn with a young man who was a slighter, beardless copy of my adversary – dark haired, blue-eyed, tall, but not so bulky.

"Radcliffe," he said urgently. "You are alarming this lady. I beg you – "

"I am not at all alarmed," I said calmly. "Except for your friend's health. He seems about to have a fit. Is he commonly subject to weakness of the brain?"

Although generically Mystery rather than Romance, anyone familiar with the meet-cute can see what this thunderous acquaintance presages. But the real joy of Crocodile on the Sandbank is traveling with the assertive, outspoken, meddling Amelia and her adopted best friend Evelyn. Before the two even leave Cairo they have to deal with the surprising appearance of Evelyn's scoundrel former lover, Alberto, and the even more surprising appearance of her long-lost cousin Lucas, whom the earl had expelled from his house and will, and who gallantly offers to serve as protection for both Amelia and Evelyn as they cruise down the Nile. And protection certainly seems necessary after Amelia awakes to find a mummy in the room she and Evelyn share!

But even the intermittent and persistent appearance of this mummy cannot squelch the thrill Amelia experiences as she travels down the Nile, and once they arrive in Amarna, where Radcliffe and Walter Emerson are excavating tombs (and Walter is translating hieroglyphics and hieratic), the real drama begins with Walter's frantic appeal to Amelia to use her amateur medical skills on his brother, who has taken severely ill with fever.

In those days, archaeologists camped inside the tombs, and as Amelia and Evelyn settle in to help with Radcliffe and fill in on the excavation and sketching of the site (Evelyn, it turns out, is quite the gifted artist, and Amelia discovers a surprisingly vigorous interest in the painstaking work of proper scientific excavation), the group faces more and more danger – the why of which is not clear, but the urgency of which is certainly compelling. A mummy, a deadly snake, a missing dragoman, even bullets threaten the group, as does Lucas's marriage proposal to Evelyn, who is most obviously falling in love with the equally smitten Walter, despite her conviction that her "shame" makes such a match impossible. And what about Alberto, whose crass and cruel treatment of Evelyn is hardly eclipsed by his insistence in Cairo that he wants another chance with her.

There is absolutely nothing about this book that did not work for me, and indeed, there are so many memorable lines and incidents that kept me dog-earning pages and laughing out loud. From Amelia's insistence that no "independent, intelligent female [should] choose to subject herself to the whims and tyrannies of a husband," to her compulsive meddling in everyone else's business (the world merely needs to be managed better, after all), to her trusty steel-shafted parasol and feminine vanity over a crimson satin dress, I adored Amelia from the first page of the book. Having her serve as narrator allows her to present a fundamentally skewed and unreliable self-portrait that makes her utterly likeable even as she says and does some unlikeable things. The slippage between her own voice and the details she narrates allows the reader to see more than one perspective at all times, which gives the book a richness of perspective we don't always see in a first person narrative.

And then there is Egypt. I confess to being a long-time addict of all things ancient Egyptian, and although I am absolutely no expert on the subject, it is clear to me early on in the book that Peters is (and indeed, she is an Egyptologist by training and, it seems, trade). Consequently, there is an authentic feel to the tombs and the archaeology and the landscape that provides an extra layer of believability to the late Victorian setting of the novel (making Amelia a "modern" woman in a way that is both unique and historically palatable). Further, the narrative neither degrades nor exoticizes Egypt or the Egyptians, even when Amelia's somewhat dogmatic insistence on the supremacy of Christianity overlays the narrative. Even when Amelia stereotypes (as she did with Piero, for example), characters are given the narrative freedom to break the typical mold, such that characters rise and fall as individuals, not types.

And the detail of the excavations during a time when some of Egypt's greatest ancient treasures were being (sometimes recklessly) uncovered by Howard Carter and the like is plentiful but never encyclopedic or intrusively boring (Peters often uses dialogue between characters to slyly educate the reader). Whether or not everything in the novel is perfectly accurate in historical terms, I felt immersed in the time and place of the setting, which is precisely what I crave in historical fiction of any genre.

I went back and re-read sections of Crocodile on the Sandbank in preparation for this gush review, and now, having reached book ten in the series, I am still impressed by how consistent and vividly true the main characters remain. Emerson   (he hates his first name and is always referred to by his last) is still always one turned hair away from an explosion (an emotional nature that also harbors intense sentimentality and protectiveness), while Amelia is still pompously brilliant and loveably meddling. That she views most men as simpletons and most women as silly makes her condescension a bit more democratic than that of Emerson, who singularly despises most other archaeologists and museum officials, as well as any man who dares pay his wife undue attention. Their love, respect, and passion for one another is enduring and palpable, a well-fixed glue for the many discrete elements of the series. Evelyn and Walter provide a quiet but substantive counterpoint to Amelia and Emerson's trouble-drawing drama. Ramses, Emerson and Amelia's precocious son, may actually outstrip his parents for sheer entertainment value. And as the relationships continue to unfold and develop, and as the circle of family and friends, adversaries and enemies, expands, the series confirms my own belief that the best books engage the reader on both the intellectual and emotional levels. And that relationships, whether between people, ideas, concepts, plot points, or events, drive and vivify good fiction of any genre.

The book’s title, Crocodile on the Sandbank, comes from a poem written on an ancient papyrus Walter translates in the course of the story, and it seems to represent the danger that lies between a lover and his beloved, as well as the courage the lover shows in risking that crocodile to reach his beloved. This dynamic broadens and reverberates through the entire series, as Amelia and Emerson battle many evils to protect those they love. And from roughly the middle of the series, I think it's a winning formula. Adventure, mystery, high drama, romance, and an exciting chronicle of Egyptian and European history at the turn of the 20th century, Crocodile on the Sandbank launches a compulsively entertaining, informative, and engaging Cozy Mystery series. A

~ Janet

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isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

64 Comments

  1. TKF
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 13:23:20

    I loved these books when I first discovered them! My interest petered out (no pun intended) somewhere around Seeing a Large Cat though.

  2. Amber
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 13:26:10

    Great review! I’ve loved this series for so long. I envy you the joy of just discovering it. I don’t reread a lot of books, but this series I reread and listen to the audiobooks at least once every few years.

    I especially love how real life historical figures appear, but are indistinguishable from other minor characters. Peters never makes a big deal about who is real and who comes from her imagination–but the history nerd in me laughs at the comments directed at Maspero, Petrie, Budge and others.

  3. Robin
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 13:29:58

    @TKF: Oh, but that’s the point at which the series really gets good, IMO. As Ramses and Nefret grow into adults, and as WWI begins, things get really complex and nail-biting. Of course, I’m reading at this point entirely for the relationships among the characters and all the political machinations, not for the mysteries (which IMO are tied to the other two things now, anyway).

    As much as I adore Amelia, Ramses is by far the most compelling character in the series to me right now (I just finished Falcon at the Portal, book 11, I think). And the subplot involving him and Nefret, as well as the political issues embroiling Ramses and David, are making me nuts with anticipation!

  4. Portia Da Costa
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 13:30:52

    Thank you for such a thorough and informative review.

    This series sounds as if it will be just my cup of tea. I love period mysteries and I love Egypt and I love this part of the Victorian era.

    I’ve been reading the Mary Russell series, by Laurie R King, so I think I may move on to Amelia Peabody when I’m up to date with Mary.

  5. Robin
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 13:33:03

    @Amber: I also really like the way she negotiates the differences between a more contemporary sensibility and a likely turn of the century perspective. The issues around David and Lia’s marriage, for example, were wonderfully nuanced, IMO, and the fact that Amelia was herself struggling with prejudices was so powerful for me as a reader.

    Also, the way Peters manages to present an incredibly strong and biased (and unreliable) narrator in Amelia but still lets other voices and POV’s break through the storytelling is brilliant, IMO. For anyone who thinks the first person POV is too restrictive and limited, I’m going to be recommending this series.

  6. Robin
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 13:35:56

    @Portia Da Costa: I haven’t read the King books — thanks for mentioning them!

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    Jul 12, 2010 @ 13:37:55

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  8. TKF
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 13:45:51

    @Robin: Ramses and Nefret growing up was part of what bored me. I just wasn’t all that interested in them and they were taking up more and more of the books. *shrug*

  9. Amber
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 13:51:03

    @Robin: Aren’t you glad you already had He Shall Thunder waiting for you? I finished my glom right at Falcon and had to wait a year for the next book.

  10. Robin
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 13:57:58

    @TKF: Yes, if you don’t like Ramses and Nefret, the later books will likely bore you, as they really take over as primary characters, IMO.

    @Amber: Yes, but I am in the middle of multiple deadline hell right now, so I’m not really in a position to read it yet! Trying for a few pages at bedtime, though.

  11. Lori
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 13:59:28

    I read the first book quite recently and was concerned about continuing the series because so often following books become a great let-down. And the brilliance of this book promised that a lessening of any of the elements (whether relationship, attitudes or humor) would be sorely apparent.

    I am delighted that the series doesn’t lose any pleasure. Now I’ll order more of the series.

  12. jody
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 14:10:18

    Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels/Barbara Mertz SO deserves attention from DA! Her Peabody series is great as is the one starring Vicky Bliss, but my personal faves are Peters’ books featuring the irascible Jacqueline Kirby. Die For Love is set at a romance writers’ convention.

    Ms. Peters/Michaels/Mertz is a heroine of mine–she’s been such a generous and vocal champion of women and women writers, and she herself is a wonderfully witty writer.

  13. Robin
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 14:12:43

    @Lori: I remember someone on Twitter commenting that after a few books, they all felt the same. While I felt some in the first handful were better than others, I have not found them repetitive or boring. I love the settings, the history, the archaeology, the relationships, the humor, the political intrigues (it’s easy to forget how much was going on in the Middle East prior to WWI), etc. Right now, on the cusp of book 12, I’m in a ‘this series just gets better and better’ place. And the books get longer and longer, too.

  14. TKF
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 14:25:56

    @Robin: Maybe I’ll try starting up “clean” with Ramses and Nefret . . . it has been nearly a decade since I read any of these.

  15. TDF Pamela
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 14:26:14

    I’m about halfway through the series (read about eight of the books all in a row, then got distracted by real life), and I LOVE them. Crocodile on the Sandbank is still my favorite, though, and I adore Amelia. She’s probably one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. Great review!

  16. Robin
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 14:33:53

    @TKF: It’s tough, IMO, because Ramses as a kid is quite different (but still very much connected) to Ramses as a kid. Even Amelia is having a hard time adjusting to the changes, in part because he is so reticent and she has a longtime denial problem re. the aspects of Ramses that mirror her own personality (and that therefore annoy her, lol).

    @TDF Pamela: In a few more books, you may change your mind about your favorite. ;D

  17. Kelly S. Bishop
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 14:42:06

    I love Amelia. Can you imagine what Kate Hepburn would have done with that role?

  18. becca
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 14:47:56

    The “internal quartet” building up to He Shall Thunder In The Sky is probably my least favorite part of the series, but He Shall Thunder is nearly perfect of it’s type. And, since I love H. Ryder Haggerd, I loved The Last Camel Died At Noon.

    The latest book, which backfills to 1910, is a lot of fun, too, but I miss Sethos.

  19. Lucy Woodhull
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 15:01:48

    YES! EP is my favorite author and I hope many of your readers grow to love Ameila the way I do.

    You should also check out the Vicki Bliss books from the estimable Ms. peters. They are an absolute delight.

  20. DS
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 15:01:56

    If you have an inclination please pick up her nonfiction Temple, Tombs and Hieroglyphs and Red Land, Black Land. They were under the Barbara Mertz name when I read them an eon or so ago.

    I don’t know if she has ever updated them, but they are both entertaining (OK laugh out loud funny) about the exploits of the early archaeologists.

    I would be interested in hearing her thoughts on the new DNA evidence.

    (As an aside, anyone who has watched the Discovery channel specials on King Tut’s family might want to read the April issue of KMT where the weaknesses of the conclusions drawn by some of the talking head experts are exposed.)

  21. orannia
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 16:17:57

    I’ve had this on my TBR list for a while, ever since I heard about in (in the comments section of a blog :) And after reading your review it sounds like a fun read. Thank you Janet!

    And since I’ve been lucky enough to visit Egypt…

  22. Bernita
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 16:37:05

    A lovely review. You like all the things I do about this series, and I have most of the Peabody books.

  23. Karenmc
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 16:42:29

    This book has been sitting in my TBR heap for over a year. Guess I’d better dust it off and start catching up.

  24. Robin
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 17:02:09

    @Kelly S. Bishop: Ooh, I haven’t thought about an actress who could play Amelia. I feel she has a blunter edge than Hepburn generally brought to her roles, but the other things in her characters would be spot on.

    @becca: Having not read any Haggard novels, I know I missed out on some of the draw of Last Camel. For me it’s the point where Ramses’s life changes forever!

    @Lucy Woodhull: I have a few books by her alter egos in the batch I got on eBay, but haven’t paid close attention them. Believe me, though, that once I finish the Peabody books, I’ll be on to her other aliases!

    @DS: Oh, thank you; I did not even know she wrote non-fiction! What, though, is “KMT”?

    @orannia: I have passed through Egypt but have not yet been to Cairo — or seen any of the major tombs. Peters really details the landscape, though, so if you’ve been around that area of the Middle East, I think it’s easy to feel it and see it in your mind’s eye.

    @Bernita: Thanks, Bernita!

    @Karenmc: I will review a later book, as well, but I’m not yet sure which one. If I can catch up to the current book, maybe that one. I LOVE that these are still being published!

  25. Robin
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 17:07:22

    The second video here is a fantastic explanation of Peters’s interest in Egypt and in historical research (which she obviously LOVES, as it’s so obvious in her books): http://ameliapeabody.com/riverinthesky.htm

  26. Michelle
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 17:09:43

    Loved the early books. I abhor Nefret.

    Don’t forget to read Street of Five Moons where we meet John Smythe who does have a connection to the Emmersons. I always think of him as a crooked Peter Wimsey.

  27. Jennie
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 17:31:26

    Fabulous review, Janet. I’ve long heard of these series but haven’t paid much attention, honestly – now I want to run out and buy the first book and start reading them right away!

    I, too, love discovering older series with a bunch of books already written so there’s no delayed gratification in getting your next fix.

  28. Jenny Schwartz
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 17:37:44

    Amelia Peabody is possibly my favourite fictional heroine. So glad you read and reviewed Crocodile on the Sandbank.

  29. Sandra
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 18:18:07

    @Robin: KMT is a professional journal devoted to Egyptology. I believe the name comes from the ancient Egyptian word for Egypt.

    I adore Peters. I have a major passion for the adult Ramses, though he was a rather annoying child. And as for John Smythe in the Vickie Bliss series, oh my….

    Btw, quite a few books in the series, including Crocodile, have been available recently as cheap or free e-books, as part of the promotional effort for the latest release in the series. I’ve scarfed them all up, even though I already have nearly all the Peters books in PB. You can never have too many Peters books, in my opinion.

    The Barbara Michaels books are primarily gothic in style, and are quite, quite different in authorial style from the Peters books.

  30. Jessica
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 18:31:53

    I have to highly recommend the audiobook versions as read by Barbara Rosenblat. I’ve listened to and loved every one since book 2. Crocodile was the only one I’ve ever read in print and I look forward to every new entry.

  31. Meg
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 19:02:35

    Ramses Emerson is my alltime second favorite fictional character.

    I adore this series, and do a re-listen of it every year.

    Am looking for more like it (for certain values of “like” — see here: http://mmegaera.livejournal.com/86042.html) if anyone’s got any ideas…

  32. Robin
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 19:05:31

    @Michelle: Falcon at the Portal has me a bit put out with Nefret (and wondering if Peters didn’t violate her characterization to create the Big Romantic Conflict of the series), but I’m curious about why you hate her.

    Thanks for the tip about the Vicky Bliss books, too

    @Jennie: Most of them are available digitally, and as @Sandra pointed out, many are available for free or $1.99 on Kindle, Sony, or Kobo (that’s as many as I’ve checked, at least). Amazon has periodically placed different books in the series for $1.99 in Kindle format, so I’ve picked up a number of them that way. I definetely think you need to read the series in order, at least for the first handful of books.

    @Jenny Schwartz: Not only do I love her as a heroine, but I love the way Peters makes her so versatile in the series — we get so much great information from her, and the journalistic “style” of the later books allows for so many different characters and scenes to shine. And she manages to stand as a translator, not only of cultures but also of eras. Love that.

    @Sandra: Oh, thank you — I will be checking that journal out very soon!

    I hate to admit that a male character has become more interesting to me than Amelia, but right now I am all about Ramses.

    @Jessica: Yours is not the first recommendation I’ve had for the audiobooks. Will definitely have to try one out . . .

  33. Robin
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 19:06:33

    @Meg: Who’s your first favorite?

  34. Meg
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 19:13:31

    Miles Vorkosigan. See the link I posted in my first comment [g].

  35. Darlynne
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 19:18:32

    The Jackal’s Head was one of the first romances I read, a non-series contemporary (1968) Egyptian mystery. I loved it, can’t tell you how many times I re-read it, as well as The Master of Blacktower, written as Barbara Michaels, my benchmark for Gothic romance. I’m so glad to see Ms. Mertz/Peters/Michaels mentioned on DA.

  36. Little Lamb Lost
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 19:32:05

    This is a fun series but I admit that my favorite of it is this particular book. It has remained one of my comfort reads when I feel out of sorts. I am on my third copy, the first two having gotten too well thumbed in the course of time and travel.

  37. becca
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 19:42:35

    oh, how nice to know the Amelias are available in eformat! I’m getting a Kindle in a few days, and I’ll definitely look for them.

    I second the Barbara Rosenblat readings of the audiobooks. These are the books that got me hooked on audio, and her readings are spot on with never a false note. And she does Emerson splendidly!

  38. Elyssa Papa
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 20:10:30

    I absolutely love this series. And it’s thanks to you I’m even reading them, Robin. I’m dubbing this summer AP glom and Ramses is my favorite character. The mutual love between Ramses/Emerson and Amelia/Emerson’s deepening relationship is always so much fun to read. I also particularly love when Ramses befuddles Amelia w/his logic and manipulations. lol

  39. Elyssa Papa
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 20:13:44

    Oh and even besides the human characters, I also love how she makes the animal characters just as strong and individual. Bastet and the lion cub are prime examples. The animals are never window dressing.

  40. Robin
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 21:08:15

    @Meg: I haven’t yet read that series.

    @Darlynne: Thanks for the further recommendations!

    @Little Lamb Lost: I had a lot of fun writing this review because there are just SO MANY great passages and quotes throughout the story. Although the first few chapters of bk 2, and the introduction of Ramses, are probably my favorite scenes of the series. The scene where Ramses jumps into Emerson’s arms and Amelia realizes she’s lost a lifelong battle is HYSTERICAL! And I love how she blames Emerson for Ramses’s lisp (by talking baby talk to him). She’s always blaming every annoying characteristic on someone else, lol.

    @becca: Just keep a lookout, because the prices on the Kindle digital books fluctuate.

    @Elyssa Papa: Yes, the cats! One of the videos I linked to has Peters talking about the importance of the cats in the series, and she’s so right. Every book has one (Bastet is probably the greatest of them all, but alas, she cannot survive the thirty year + span of the series), and they really do play an important role in the stories. The horses are also wonderfully present, and the way Amelia insists on washing and tending medically to the donkeys is a fabulous detail, IMO. I also love the way that Nefret and Ramses seem to have an almost psychic ability to communicate with the animals.

  41. Meg
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 21:32:15

    If you like Ramses, Miles will be right up your alley, too. His author is Lois McMaster Bujold, and the “Crocodile equivalent” in the series (the one about how his parents got together [g]) is Shards of Honor. The milieu is completely different (they’re of the variety of science fiction best known as space opera), but the books are terrific.

    As for Nefret in Falcon, I think she should have fired her agent (and suspect she did, since her characterization is much more consistent later on). The Nefret of Last Camel would never have done what she did at the end of Falcon. Not in a gazillion years.

  42. Robin
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 22:14:54

    @Meg: I’ve read the first two Sharing Knife books, but not the Vorkosigan series. But you’re the umpteenth person who has recc’d it, so hopefully I will eventually try it, lol.

    And yeah, the Nefret in Last Camel is so poised and strong and savvy — so much older for her years than the Nefret of Falcon. I actually can see the first part of her rash reaction, but the second? That’s what I’m struggling with in a big way. Guess I’ll have to wait until Thunder to really decide if it coheres for me or not. Right now it feels like a forced conflict device, and I don’t like that (not to mention the fact that I want to shake Nefret until her teeth rattle!).

  43. DS
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 07:45:04

    @Robin: KMT is a magazine, subtitled The Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt. I’ve been a subscriber off and on over the years and reupped to get the April issue (it’s quarterly) because of the DNA news.

    The web site is kmtjournal.com but it has grown less interesting over the years rather than more. The title translates to The Black Land (Kemet).

    There is also in this issue an approving review of River in the Sky.

  44. becca
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 08:35:27

    second or third the Miles Vorkosigan books – I love Miles! The wonderful romance-y part starts in Komarr, which was written to be a second point of entry to the series for people who don’t want to start at the absolute beginning. A Civil Campaign is glorious and has a lovely love letter in it. I can’t rave high enough about Miles.

    Link to inexpensive versions of the Amelias, please? I just checked Amazon, and they’re all 6.99 or 7.99. I have them all in audio and in print, and can’t justify spending full amount to get them all in e-format as well!

  45. Michelle
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 10:30:33

    Re: Nefret-I didn’t mind her as a child. She is portrayed as brilliant, but suddenly pulls a TSTL moment.

    Spoiler:

    The whole miscarriage I thought was a sleazy plot device. It just really turned me off her. In the later books she is just bland.

    Re: Barbara Michaels. My two favorite are Vanish with the Rose. A women tries to find her missing brother, and travels to an estate where he was last seen. Also the Dancing Floor, where the heroine travels to England for a garden tour and gets involved with a family, and their problems, and there is a back story re witchcraft. They are excellent.

  46. JoannaV
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 10:51:36

    I got this book recently when it was $1.99 for the Kindle – I thought at that price and it was the first in a series, how could I go wrong. I absolutely loved it! Amelia is such a wonderful character. Great review, and I now have the next book in the series ready to start.

  47. Robin
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 11:20:16

    @DS: Yes, I did a search last night and found both the website and the disappointing fact that it does not seem to be in digital format anywhere (including university libraries). Forty bucks a year for four issues is steep, but I’d love to get the most recent issue, not only for the Tut info but also for the Peters review.

    @becca: You have to keep an eye out, because the prices fluctuate. Kobo has The Last Camel Died at Noon and The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog for $1.99 right now (http://www.kobobooks.com/search/search.html?q=elizabeth+peters&t=none&f=keyword&p=1&s=none&g=both). I have gotten the first two books, Seeing A Large Cat, The Mummy Case, The Hippopotamus Pool, and perhaps others for $1.99 at Amazon (Kindle). The Sony ebookstore has had some discounted, as well, although I have not checked there lately, but their prices seem quite high in general of late. I periodically scroll through the Kindle books at Amazon hoping for a recent discount.

    @Michelle: That didn’t bother me, but her actions preceding that event are the ones I’ve been struggling with (and commenting on here in this discussion). I have not yet made up my mind as to whether Peters violated Nefret’s characterization, but I did find that whole series of events really problematic (not the introduction of Sennia, though, as I think that was a smart plot device and one that allowed all the characters to reveal deeper levels).

    @JoannaV: I adore the first few chapters of book two and am prone to re-reading them simply to enjoy the humor and as a check on the continuity of Emerson and Amelia’s characters — amazingly, they have been incredibly stable in their development, IMO, throughout all of the 11 books I’ve read so far. Another reason I have so much respect for the craftsmanship of this series.

  48. Jocelyn Z
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 12:03:52

    I’m one of the people who gave up on this series after Ramses and Nefret took over as the main characters – partially because I still identified with Amelia as a reader and I found the children’s romance icky, partially because of the uneven characterization of Nefret. I might circle back to the later books, since it’s been years since I read this series, and it might bother me less now than it did when I read them.

    My best friend also reads these, and has decided that she doesn’t like the author anymore because she consistantly portrays fat people in a negative light. I didn’t notice that until she pointed it out, but she’s right, and it became irritating.

    Thanks for the heads-up about the cheap e-copies on Kobo, I’m going to be getting the first few for sure, because I love them, flaws and all. I hope you do read the Vorkosigan books soon (and I’d recommend reading them in order) because I’d love to see your review.

  49. Faye Hughes
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 13:11:22

    I *LOVE* Elizabeth Peters. Barbara Michaels topo. Thanks for a great review of one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors.

    Faye

  50. Marianne McA
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 13:16:20

    I had stopped reading the series. I think really it’s because I never followed the series, and so bought or borrowed the books as I happened across them.

    My feeling is that while the earlier books stood alone, no matter what order you read them (like the, yes, you have to read it Vorkosigan series) I suspect I’d have got more out of the later books if I’d read them in order. I also found the structure of the later books less readable.

    And the titles and covers are so similar in feel. I look at them in the bookshop, can’t tell which I’ve read, so buy something else. (Also the reason I gave up on the No 1. Ladies Detective Agency series.)

    Still, this has reminded me how much I liked Ramses, so I might try and read the later books in order, and see if a cumulative approach works better.

  51. Marianne McA
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 13:29:43

    and…

    @Robin

    Should you ever decide to read the Vorkosigan books, Baen is great for ebooks – you can get the omnibus editions on their website for $5, DRM free. Cordelia’s Honour is the first, though it is a bit first-booky in parts, and Young Miles contains the next couple of books – which really start the Miles story proper.

  52. Patricia
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 14:32:03

    I have loved the Elizabeth Peters books (all series), but Amelia Peabody is one of the great fictional characters. I love that she is a product of her times and is full of the prejudices that a British subject of the time would have, but that it is clear that Elizabeth Peters herself does not share those prejudices and different views are demonstrated, even while maintaining the first person narrative. I also enjoy that Ms. Peters can be decidedly unsentimental about parenting. I don’t remember the name of the book, but at the end of one of them, Nefrit has joined the household and Amelia is contemplating just how many more years stretch before her taking care of these children. I am a mother and I adore my child (and went through a hell of a lot to become a mother), but I have absolutely had those same moments of wondering just how much longer this would continue. In another series, the main character is a mother of grown children, who are mentioned but never appear.

    There are so many layers and facets to her books and they make me laugh.

  53. Robin
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 16:43:00

    @Jocelyn Z: I hadn’t noticed the weight thing in Peters, but I will be on the lookout for it, now. ;D

    If you want to start with the later books, probably Seeing A Large Cat would be the place to start (book 9), as it really kicks off the transition from Ramses the kid to Ramses the man. The Falcon and the Portal is really the pivotal book in the evolution of his relationship with Nefret, but I really enjoyed the whole journey of Ramses’s shift into adulthood.

    @Faye Hughes: You’re welcome! Thanks for reading the review.

    @Marianne McA: Thank you so much for reminding me of Baen! Amazon does not carry these in digital, and if I get them on Baen I can email them to my Kindle (this whole email to the digital device thing is a REVELATION), which makes me a very happy reader.

    @Patricia: The parenting thing is one of my favorite aspects of the series, because it’s obvious Amelia loves Ramses (and it’s always funny when she realizes the depth of her own feelings), but Emerson is really the sentimental softie of the two. The play with gender roles and the refusal to align good parenting with being a walking mammary gland is soooooo refreshing!

  54. Jenny Schwartz
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 17:40:11

    Thanks to the discussion here I’ve gone and bought Cordelia’s Honor by Bujold. Hope it becomes a new favourite series :)

  55. Meg
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 19:30:14

    WRT Seeing a Large Cat.

    “‘Ramses? Little chap?'” is one of my favorite lines in all of literature.

    And the mustache. Just thinking about the whole thing is making me grin.

  56. Robin
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 22:41:15

    @Jenny Schwartz: I just did the same thing, lol.

    @Meg: I LOVE the first scene in the book where Ramses and David come into Shepheard’s and Amelia doesn’t even recognize them. What a fantastic foreshadowing of the dual life Ramses will lead in future books!

  57. Elle
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 22:42:58

    Thrilled to see this series reviewed, Robin! Amelia, Emerson, Ramses and Nefret are some of my all time favorite characters.

    I would second (third?) the recommendation to try Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss series–it is a delight as well, particularly Street of Five Moons, Trojan Gold, and The Last Train to Memphis.

  58. Robin
    Jul 13, 2010 @ 22:48:22

    @Elle: Ooh, I didn’t realize you were a fan of this series, Elle!

    I ordered a batch of books from eBay a while ago, and I’ll have to check to see if any of them are under the Vicky Bliss pseud. I am starting to get scared at the number of books I have yet to read! Although I just recommended the Peabody series to my animal chiropractor, so clearly I’m not trying to spare anyone else the addiction, either. ;D

  59. Jenny Schwartz
    Jul 14, 2010 @ 17:46:41

    @Robin LOL Great minds! or is it great recommendations? I’m looking forward to the read.

  60. Robin
    Jul 15, 2010 @ 10:19:48

    @Jenny Schwartz: Me, too, and given how much fun the discussion in this comment thread has been for me, I’ll definitely be writing a review of the Bujold volume once I finish (hopefully before 2020, at the rate I’m going!).

  61. Kay Webb Harrison
    Jul 15, 2010 @ 12:12:18

    Robin,
    Great review. I had been reading Peters/Michaels through my teens in the late 1960s. So when Crocodile on the Sand Bank came out, I scarfed it up and have been reading the series ever since.

    I recommend her pre-Amelia books under both pseudonyms as well. Try to find Amie, Come Home and Shattered Silk–I think they are under the Michaels name; they are set in the MD/DC area and involve some of the same characters. There may be one more book in this loose series.

    DS,
    Yes, Mertz did update her nonfiction books about Egypt. You can find info about the process on her Web site. It took a long time to go over the details, especially on the figures and photos. That caused a gap in the production of new fiction.

    Kay

  62. Jenny Schwartz
    Jul 15, 2010 @ 18:03:20

    @Robin I’ll keep an eye out for your review :)

    @Kay I love the early Barbara Michaels books. “Legend in Green Velvet” is such a fun adventure through Scotland — though not part of the series you’re talking about. Happy memories. Might have to re-read.

  63. Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters – Review
    Oct 13, 2010 @ 15:12:33

    […] Dear Author says: […]

  64. Crocodile Wallet
    Oct 28, 2010 @ 22:04:22

    Seems like a really cool book. I’ll have to check it out.

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