Werner's Reviews > Crocodile on the Sandbank

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
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Jul 19, 14

bookshelves: mystery-crime-fiction, got-from-bookmooch
Recommended for: Mystery (especially historical mystery) fans, and fans of strong, smart heroines
Read from March 11 to 24, 2010, read count: 1

This book launched a prolific historical mystery series featuring Amelia Peabody, which makes use of the author's expertise in ancient Egypt and the archaeology that studies it. Peters' real name is Dr. Barbara Mertz, a well-respected Egyptologist in real life. (She also writes acclaimed "romantic suspense" under the name Barbara Michaels.) It was an absolute treat to read; I hated to put it down!

Set in 1884 (the date isn't given, but can be deduced from the few references to Gordon at Khartoum), the novel is narrated by Amelia herself; Peters gives her diction a Victorian flavor which adds verisimiltude, and appeals to readers like me who enjoy 19th-century fiction. Amelia, though, isn't a typical Victorian female. 32 years old and still single, she's knowledgable (her father, who's just died, was a famous scholar), headstrong but practical, unintimidated by danger or physical hardship, with a liking for adventure and no false modesty. She's also a genuinely compassionate person, a good judge of character, and a Christian who shows her faith not only by a few verbal references to it but by the way she cares about and treats others. And last but by no means least, she possesses a rich strain of dry humor that adds enormously to the reader's enjoyment here. Comparisons of her character to Indiana Jones are misplaced; she's not a female Indy or a Modesty Blaise type. She doesn't like guns --though she's not reluctant to hit or jab somebody with her parasol if he needs it :-)-- and in situations that call for action, she tends to trip over her encumbering skirts, which are one of the banes of her existence (she much prefers trousers). But she's a feisty, tough-inside lady who won't run from a challenge and keeps her cool in an emergency. Her take-charge attitude can come across as abrasive (though she doesn't mean for it to); but for all that, she's one of the most likable fictional heroines to come down the pike in a long time.

Left alone and in good financial shape, Amelia resolves to do some traveling that takes her to Egypt (by way of Rome) and introduces her to the other main characters here, especially Evelyn Barton-Forbes and the archaeologist Emerson brothers. Though they're overshadowed by Amelia, all Peters' charcters here are vividly real and well-drawn. (Radcliffe Emerson is particularly well-done; several blurbs, including the description above, call him "dashing," but that's not a term I'd use. To me, he actually comes across as more like Doyle's Prof. Challenger: both physically, with his bear-like build and that black beard, and in his irascible, pugnacious personality and opinionated approach to the science that he cares passionately about.) The author takes awhile to introduce the mystery elements of the plot, because she's setting the stage and letting us get to know the characters and their situation; but she keeps our interest as she does it. In fact, the book isn't only a mystery; it's as much a high Victorian novel of manners and social relationships, and the two strands blend together surprisingly well: sort of a "Henry James meets The Mummy" effect. There's also romance --two romances, in fact, both having a bit of complication to overcome (what fictional romance doesn't? :-))
-- and though one of my Goodreads friends has complained that romances in mysteries tend to be poorly integrated with the rest of the plot, that's not the case here. The mystery itself doesn't involve murder, a refreshing change of pace from the usual fare in the genre; I guessed the basic truth behind the situation well before the denouement, but in this type of fiction, that kind of guessing is part of the pleasure. Peters also does a good job introducing period and archaeological background detail and weaving it smoothly into the story --where it serves as another ingredient of a very delicious literary main dish!

I read this inside of two weeks --a fast read for me. My only regret is that I took so long to get around to reading this series! I'd most definitely be enthusiastically game for another installment.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Nancy (new) - added it

Nancy Great review, Werner. I wasn't aware that Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels were the same author. One of Michaels' stories comes to mind...there was a haunted quilt and a murder, but the details escape me after more than 10 years. It was a rather enjoyable story at the time.

message 2: by Werner (last edited Mar 24, 2010 09:13PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Werner Thanks, Nancy! (I've never read any of her work under the Barbara Michaels name, though of course I've seen it in libraries and bookstores.)

Callista If you progress with the series, you'll see that Amelia changes her mind about guns...and Emerson has some interesting things so say about it. Glad you enjoyed the book.

Werner Thanks for the tip, Callista. I definitely do hope to read more of the series (as if I needed anything more on my to-read shelf! :-)).

Mike (the Paladin) Good review. My wife loved these books...all of them, she watched for new Peabody books. I never really got into them like she did, though I "listened" to a few when I was driving. Spending time driving a lot I often "listened" to books I might not have picked to read.

Werner Thanks, Mike! Wives have a way of introducing us to things we might not otherwise read, so I can relate to your experience. :-)

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