A series as long-running as the Peabody books is bound to contain a few duds. The Lion in the Valley, The Deeds of the Disturber, and The Hippopotamus Pool all had their share of problems, but The Ape Who Guards the Balance manages to offend in a way none of these earlier works did. It has excellent sections, particularly in the interactions between Ramses, David, and Nefret, and the Emersons' presence at the botched excavation of KV55 was a nice touch, but both the central mystery and the key emotional events of this volume are wasted effort.
The mystery is not a terribly interesting one; the opening chapter makes it clear that Sethos is back and that there will be even more people creeping about in various disguises than usual (this is possibly the weakness of this series in general). Sethos I can handle, but the villain of this book was tiresome the first two times she popped up and is even worse in this round. Peters undercuts any feminist agenda she might have by inadvertently making a key villainess far less compelling than one-shot villains like Riccetti and Pesanker. Bring back Lady Baskerville, if you must, but no more of this!
As for the personal travails of the Emerson clan... the troubles foreshadowed in the previous book are hinted at more and more strongly here, and then the images of a fratricidal tangle over Nefret resolve abruptly in a way that might be realistic in life but is unsatisfying as fiction. Some people fall in love, some are revealed as latent racists who turn upon their loved ones in times of stress, some die, and some stay the same. None of this turmoil is terribly affecting-and this is in the tenth volume of a series I've devoted much time and mental energy to, a series whose characters are 'people' I enjoy spending time with!
I feel the series soared back on course with Falcon at the Portal, and reached higher still with He Shall Thunder in the Sky, but Ape just didn't cohere.