Elizabeth Peters writes with an assured cadence. Her stories seem to unfold as though revealed in a handwritten letter and with elegant penmanship. Having read two delightful short stories set in Egypt I was ready to immerse myself in a full length book.
For the first time the clerk in my bookstore approved of my choice. She was a devoted fan of the Amelia Peabody series. I was sure to love it. Before this she had failed to comment on any of my bi-weekly mystery selections. I sensed I was in for something special.
The quality of writing did not disappoint. The archeology felt authentic. I learned a lot about excavating Egypt. The settings seemed appropriate to the times and circumstances. I even lamented the intrusion of industrialization upon gentler traditions. I was reminded of Merchant & Ivory.
The Emersons could have been so much more compelling. They are a liberally-collected rainbow group who would be welcomed and entertained at most sophisticated social events of OUR time, but would xenophic and racist Londoners toward the end of Victoria's reign been so kind to compatriots who had "gone native"? Yet it was the mixed backgrounds of two of the "children" that I thought could have yielded the most interest.
What was uninteresting to me was how physically attractive they had to be. Emerson's "steely arms" and "muscular chest"; Ramses' physical stature and attraction for women; David's appearance being similar to Ramses with "the long-lashed dark eyes"; and "strikingly pretty, extremely intelligent" Nefret was even blessed with laughter "like sunlit water bubbling over pebbles". Peabody herself was able to look good in any outfit while being the object of a Master Criminal's desires. Did they also have to be rich and well-bred? Then I was reminded of Lara Croft, Tomb Raider.
I much prefer Elizabeth Peters' short story characters: Senu, the carpenter, and Rennefer, the weaver, or Baenre, the potter, "a scanty little man with thin hair and sharp bones", to these pharaoh-like protagonists. Without the lordly Emersons the short stories are able to plunge the reader directly into that heat and dust where, due to the humble (or average) circumstances of the characters, there is no escaping the mystery, but to solve it.
The Emersons were in Egypt by choice. Their wealth, background, and physical stature distinguished them from the masses. They were even more privileged and rarified than their "lesser" countrymen, some whose careers kept them in Egypt. Throughout the book it occured to me that if situations turned too ugly The Emersons could have decamped to London for a season of ablutions and liberal causes.
I hope Elizabeth Peters, with her knowledge of Egyptology and excellent writing skills, will give us a book length mystery involving Egyptians in their own country.