Saturday, February 5, 2011

Strickly a Book Review

Crocodile on the Sandbank
by Elizabeth Peters
Warner Books
4 1/2 spangles out of five
Historical Suspense with strong romantic elements
Heat: It's properly Victorian and thus we shall talk of other things, thank you. Would you like some tea?

Here I am, trying to do recent books in my genre, but yet again I'm faced with an older (1975) book that has not a fantasy element in it. Unless you think that menacing mummies prowling through the night are particularly paranormal.

I picked this up because somewhere someone had mentioned that it not only was a definite keeper, but the first of a series. How I love origin stories! Indeed, this is book #1 of the Amelia Peabody series.

Amelia is a spinster, youngest child and inheritor of her father's surprise fortune. Amelia had long studied at her father's side, drinking in his love of archaeology and ancient cultures. So when he dies and she finds herself rich, she hies herself off to the world's more interesting historical places.

In Rome she happens upon a young, beautiful but destitute woman, Evelyn, who has been Ruined by a man who thought he could gain a fortune through her. But now the young lady's grandfather has disowned her, and if not for Amelia's rescue, she would have died of hunger and cold.

Her experience has left Evelyn vowing never to get married, for her view of men has been marred. Should she ever find a good man, she would not inflict upon him the stigma of her Ruin.

Amelia also knows that she will never marry, for Amelia is a woman of strong opinions she is not shy of sharing, and she realizes that her looks are not what a man should want. The only reason a man would marry her would be for her wealth, and she will not stand for that. So the two resolve to travel together, Evelyn as Amelia's companion, and renounce marriage while having an interesting time in the world.

After Rome comes Cairo, Egypt. Here Peters has done thorough research into the state of archeology during the Victorian era, and Egypt is not faring well. Much of its treasures is pilfered, and those that remain are not catalogued well enough to conduct serious scientific research.

Amelia sets off for a Nile cruise. One of her stops on the way to Luxor is Amarna, where she and Evelyn run into two archaeologist brothers they'd met previously, one of whom has come down with a fever. Amelia's medical knowledge is brought into play. Before she or Evelyn realize it, they stumble into a mystery that has something to do with King Akhenaten's tomb and a mummy who walks around at night, threatening their party.

Yes, the answer to it all does seem obvious, but it is the process of the characters solving things and interacting that makes the book. Amelia is one tough cookie, always ready with a smart crack, be it from her words or her iron parasol. She locks horns with one of the brothers, who is as stubborn as she.

There are several chuckles per chapter, and the bits of Egyptian history and landscape are vividly portrayed. A hint: don't read the back cover copy, which gives the basis for the series away—which includes the ending of this book.

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