Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Last Camel Died at Noon by Elizabeth Peters

Years ago I read a mystery by Elizabeth Peters so I’ve been introduced to Amelia Peabody Emerson and company. Although I can’t remember which one it was, I apparently enjoyed it enough to purchase more of her books.

The flap of The Last Camel Died at Noon made it sound like it would be an intriguing mystery. And it was, but it took a long detour into Neverland. I wondered if I was reading a late-nineteenth century mystery set in England or a tame cross-over with Indiana Jones and Dan Brown. No offense to Ms. Peters. She writes much better than Brown although her stories are a bit cozier.

While the Emersons are entertaining at their palatial estate in London one rainy night, they get several uninvited guests. Arriving at one’s house unannounced is a serious no-no in Victorian England etiquette rules. First, a young man collapses in their parlor and a short time later his overbearing grandfather bursts in.

The older man implores the Emersons to search for his son and daughter-in-law who disappeared into the sands of Egypt fourteen years earlier. Against all odds, Viscount Blacktower has received a coded message that he claims proves his son is still alive.

Amelia and her husband emphatically refuse to go on a rescue mission, especially one with such sketchy details and the possibility of success is remote. They proceed to Egypt, following their own agenda, excavating a site of little archaeological significance. The grandson Reggie appears out of the blue with an entourage in tow. The Emersons are still unmoved but when Reggie is kidnapped by desert wild men while attempting to search for his uncle on his own, they feel they have no other recourse but to go in hopes of rescuing him.

After a brush with death by dehydration, the Emersons are taken to a secret oasis, hidden away, where an entire monarchy thrives with its court and castes. Amelia and her family are treated like royalty but soon find themselves caught in the middle of a civil war between brothers fighting for the throne.

At times the mystery takes a back seat to Peters’ knowledge of ancient Egyptian customs and rituals as she displays for half the novel while the Emersons are embroiled in drama, intrigue and schemes in this hidden nation. There never was an absence of suspense but oftentimes, I wondered where the story was going. When we learn the solution to the mystery, it’s almost a moot point. It’s also wrapped up a little quickly, as in one page.

Despite no page-turning excitement, The Last Camel Died at Noon is a good story, as pleasurable than any other mystery out there.

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