Sunday, March 6, 2011

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

It’s impossible to not like Amelia Peabody, the main character in Elizabeth Peters’ series. She is the quintessential prim, proper, Victorian-era Englishwoman, always taking charge, making sure the world behaves. That isn’t easy when the world is infested by men, who are boorish, rude and say the most inappropriate things at the most inopportune times.

Despite the omnipresent oppression of the English gentlewoman by the male population, Miss Peabody is well-established at thirty-two, thanks to a large inheritance from her late father, but she has no husband, no suitors and doesn’t want either.

Resigning herself to spinsterhood, Amelia decides to spend the winter in Egypt instead of England’s dreary climate. With barely a foot on the African continent, she rescues a young woman with a sad story. Amelia takes the girl under her wing and up the Nile. This is how Crocodile on the Sandbank, the first in the series begins.

Before leaving Cairo, Amelia and Evelyn meet a pair of archaeological brothers. The youngest, Walter Emerson, is well-mannered, well-spoken and instantly besotted by Evelyn. His older brother, Radcliffe, has an entirely opposite demeanor. He is abrasive, arrogant and condescending to everyone.

Amelia is all too pleased to leave their presence and Cairo with her new ward, but several days into their journey, they encounter the brothers again. Despite the irascible Radcliffe, Amelia is fascinated by the discoveries he’s made at his excavation. But it also seems they have angered the spirit of the long-dead king whose tomb has been uncovered. A mummy begins haunting their camp at night, terrorizing the workers and nearby villagers who fear the old king’s wrath. Amelia and Radcliffe are quite certain there is nothing supernatural going on so what is the purpose of trying to scare them? Who is masquerading as the mummy that is quite athletic and able to elude all attempts to capture him?

As far as cozy mysteries go, this one is as cozy as they get. No gory killings or other extreme acts of violence. The ending, somewhat expected, kept this from being a glorified Scooby-Doo mystery. The jokes are a lot better in Peters’ writing.

Elizabeth Peters pens a great narrative telling her story in first person from Amelia’s point of view. Her writing is witty, charming and a pleasure to read. Crocodile on the Sandbank whets the readers’ appetite for the start of a wonderful journey.

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