Barbara Mertz was a serious Egyptologist. Using the pen name Elizabeth Peters she wrote 19 historical novels about archaeology in Egypt and the Middle East spanning the time frame 1884 to 1923. She created the heroine Amelia Peabody, an inspiring role model and masterful solver of mysteries.
Amelia is a feisty early British feminist who is sure she will never marry. On a trip to Egypt she meets archeaologist Radcliffe Emerson, and her life is forever changed. Through the novels, Amelia and Emerson excavate in storied locations such as Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, Karnak, Amarna, Palestine, the Sudan, and Giza. Their adventures follow historically the discoveries in Egypt and famous figures such as Howard Carter, Howard Flinders Petrie, and Lord Carnarvon take part. All of this is a background for the murder mystery that must be solved in each book and getting Amelia, Emerson, and their family and friends out of dire straits.
Amelia and Emerson often travel on the Nile in their river boat (dahabiyeh) that Amelia has outfitted with Victorian comfort. There is romance in the air as she describes the scents of the flowers, the moon over the desert, and the majesty of the ancient ruins.
I’ve read all 19 books, plus the “encyclopedia”, Amelia Peabody’s Egypt: A Compendium. But I suppose I must choose some of my favorites to give you more of a flavor of the novels.
- It all begins with Crocodile on the Sandbank. Amelia uses an inheritance to take a grand tour. While in Rome, she rescues an Englishwoman and ends up hiring her to accompany her to Egypt. She meets the gruff Emerson, but romance ensues as they solve a mystery together and she learns about the world of Egyptology.
- Lion in the Valley is another favorite. In this one, Amelia at last gets to excavate in a pyramid. Between the excitement of the pyramid and the mystery to solve, this one keeps moving briskly!
- Tomb of the Golden Bird is a great entry in the series. Amelia and Emerson are on hand as Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discover King Tut. Though the Emersons are not on the team of the biggest discovery, they are key in protecting the region from an evil threat.
Ancient Egypt has such interesting history with the gods, pharaohs, the people that built the tombs. The development of archaeology against the background of the Ottoman Empire and the French and British interests in the Middle East is another interesting history. Put them both together with the detective work of a mystery and I’m hooked!
Resource Links for Amelia Peabody mysteries
- Another shirt ruined: The official Amelia Peabody page
- Egyptologists from Ancient Egypt Online
- Biography of Amelia Edwards from University of Pennsylvania
- Top ancient Egypt sites from About Travel
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