Sunday, August 15, 2010
In Victorian England, a woman wasn't supposed to be an archaeologist or a detective. Amelia Peabody was both. Thirty-one-year-old Victorian gentlewoman Amelia Peabody has inherited her father's strong will as well as his considerable fortune. On her way to Cairo to indulge her passion for Egyptology, she picks up Evelyn Barton-Forbes as a traveling companion. Evelyn has a tarnished past, but both she and Amelia believe that it won't come back to haunt her. That belief is shattered when Evelyn is attacked by a walking, homicidal mummy. Amelia enlists the aid of Radcliff Emerson, a prominent Egyptologist, to help unravel the plot against her friend and decipher the clues left by the mummy. Between grave digging and academic sparring, she manages to save his life. But with the threat of an ancient curse closing in, Amelia must resort to outrageous methods to prevent the mummy from making corpses of them all.
I loved, loved, loved this book!
The indomitable Amelia Peabody, Victorian spinster turned archeologist sleuth is an original - the original. First in a long series of historical mystery novels starring Amelia, the series inception began with Crocodile on the Sandbank in 1975. Since then, there are something like nineteen (!) books in the series, and Ms. Peters is still pumping them out! I can see why over the years, other authors have probably modeled their heroines after her, but they pale in comparison - no one is quite like Amelia! She is irresistible! Having become a fan of this genre recently, I now recognize Amelia in several other historical mystery novels I've read lately. As much as I like these other female mystery solvers who also happen to be well-to-do Victorian ladies, none have been as deliciously fun to read as much as Amelia. They don't even come close!
For one thing Amelia's dry wit and razor sharp tongue make the words leap off the pages. She sparkles. She's clever. She's rich. She's blunt. What a character, full of common sense and a strong dose of vinegar added for good measure. She can match anyone. No one can up Ms. Peabody - well, maybe one person - a man whom she meets in Egypt on an archeological dig ... but I get ahead of myself. A self avowed spinster, she's proud of her status and is her own person. Eager to travel and see the world, she befriends the destitute Evelyn Barton-Forbes, a young lady of aristocratic origin who has been cruelly duped into eloping with an Italian lothario who leaves her broke, ruined and unmarried. Amelia, recognizing a kindred spirit in Evelyn, hires her on the spot to become her paid traveling companion.
The two travel from Rome to Egypt to sail along the Nile and see Egypt from the water (the only civilized way to see Egypt and the Pyramids). Amelia is captivated by the country and it's antiquities and becomes an instant expert on all things Egyptian. While in Cairo, they meet two brothers - one, a young, handsome and charmingly bashful gentleman who becomes instantly smitten with Evelyn and the other... well, let's just say Emerson isn't exactly like his brother.
Emerson is a big bear of a man. In Amelia's eyes he is just barely a gentlemen. Dedicated to his archeological dig and abhorring the dirty dealings of antiquities dealers and their casual disregard for preservation, Emerson and Amelia come to loggerheads upon first meeting. In her eyes, he is uncouth, lacking in the Victorian civilities she is accustomed to. He criticizes everyone repeatedly and refers to her as "Peabody." They are all thrown together while trying to solve the mystery of a mysterious mummy that is "haunting" Emerson's archeological site along the Nile. Amelia, being the take charge kind of person that she is, commandeers the entire operation when Emerson falls ill and so begins our mystery. Unbelieving in actual mummies, our archeological friends all try to capture the fake "mummy" and find out who is behind the deception that is scaring the superstitious workers off the site.
As much as the mystery was fun to solve, it was also very funny! The entire book is told as if Amelia is recounting the events at a later date and I loved it how she keeps referring to "her Critic" who seems to be looking over her shoulder as she writes. Gee I wonder who it is? ;) There are many funny little tidbits that cracked me up, particularly the asides she has in regard to Emerson or Lucas, a suitor of Evelyn's who is up to no good and most likely after her money. I had no idea this book would be such a riot! I was giggling throughout - it was simply delightful!
I'm leaving tons out for I don't want to spoil the surprises, but trust me this is a priceless little gem. I loved every word of it. Amelia and Emerson's jabs at each other were hilarious, their little war, of course, turns into love and it was a joy to see how the whole mystery unfolds in the midst of Amelia's and Emerson's barbs towards each other and the mysterious shenanigans that take place in the desert while trying to nab the mummy! I was riveted to the mummy mystery, I had an idea of who was all behind it, but was curious to see how it played out. Plus, I had to keep reading to find out if the beautiful Evelyn, Amelia's companion, finds true love and if her reputation is regained. I liked Evelyn a lot, I had a great deal of sympathy for her, she's been treated badly, yet she's strong as well. She doesn't just roll over and play dead. I hope we see more of her in future books! Amelia's love story was great as well - a real hoot! What a pair!!
Do yourself a big favor, read this book if you like historical mysteries with a strong and captivating heroine. Long live Amelia! I'm eager to see just how the rest of this series plays out, much of which I'll listen to on audiobook in the future - a real treat!