Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series may not be new, but as it’s still ongoing and still a pleasure to read, it bears revisiting. The series begins with this volume: The Crocodile on the Sandbank. Readers are introduced to Amelia, who may not always be entirely likable, but is always admirable. Victorian English to the core with mildly liberated ideas of femininity, the spinster embarks upon a tour of the classical world, particularly Egypt, which has been her lifelong study at the knee of her father, an imminent professor. Along the way, Amelia meets and rescues the deceptively delicate and good-hearted Evelyn, and crosses foils with the Emerson brothers, who have their own ideas about how to conduct archaeological inquiries. When a mummy repeatedly tries to kill Evelyn, it’s up to Amelia to discover who would want to kill the abandoned lady and why, and to stop them.
[ad#longpost]Peters devotes a great deal of time and space to developing her world, and the result is like a travelogue as much as a mystery. Readers are immersed in the world of Victorian Egypt, and while some details may seem anachronistic or deus ex machina, the result is still charming and entertaining. Readers fond of the classical world or of travel will appreciate the tone and details, while other readers, who prefer not to get bogged down in anything but the mystery will not be distracted. Peters manages the balance perfectly.
The characters are quite enjoyable. Amelia’s hard-headedness and British Victorian pushiness are tempered by her soft heart and willingness to laugh at herself. She may be proper, but she’s not prim. Evelyn, as Amelia discovers, is not the fragile doll she appears and is a more complex and interesting character than you may assume upon meeting her. Alberto is a rather simplistic villain, but the other villain of the piece, who shall remain nameless in this review, is not so clichÃ© or flat. The Emerson brothers are different enough to be interesting, and their interactions with Amelia, Evelyn, and Egypt (which may be the most interesting character in the book) are amusing and also ring true.
The mystery itself is not only unusual, but nicely plotted. The villain is not impossible to detect, but nor should the identity and motives be insultingly obvious to the average mystery reader. If you figure out who is behind the attacks and why fairly early, the characters are enjoyable enough to be worth reading the book.
If you enjoy Egypt, archaeology, and/or mysteries, then give The Crocodile on the Sandbank a try. It is the beginning of a fine series that has enraptured fans for decades and rightfully so. It is perfect for those nights when you want to curl up with a good story, a cup of tea, and a book that is neither painfully stupid nor something that will demand dictionaries, migraines, or Kafkaesque logical circles.