maricar's Reviews > Crocodile on the Sandbank

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
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's review
Mar 23, 2011

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bookshelves: historical-fiction, mystery-thriller

A strong-willed woman finding high adventure in an Egyptian dig? Dammit… where did I stash my little green-eyed monster…?

Oh yeah. Bring on the romanticism. The sensational accounts of mystery and mysticism. And while you’re on it, throw in the backdrop of ancient Egyptian ruins and the serpentine Nile on the mix.

No worries. I’ll just be here, making a curled-upper-lip-fish-face of bitter envy as I read through Peabody’s – what did the back say? — “debut Egyptian adventure…”

Of course, it didn’t matter that the whole premise of the mystery was decidedly “un”-Egyptian. What made me so envious were the characters with their skill in deciphering hieroglyphics, who can be found dust and sand-covered up to their eye sockets from hours of meticulously uncovering a find, whose idea of a high is the sounds of ululation that ring out when a discovery is made… and so on and etcetera.

Then there’s Amelia Peabody herself. It’d be easy to blurt out ‘feminist’ when it comes to word association. As it is, I’ll just think of her as possessing a backbone of steel, contrarily impulsive as well as maddeningly sensible. Possessed of a rapier wit while also given to bouts of acerbic self-righteousness. A somewhat admirable figure, true.

The only thing really that sticks at my craw is the glaring fact that she has had money to dispose of as she pleases as she embarks on her “adventure.” Not much, mind, but certainly enough. To have independent means with which to travel the world and go to places she has always dreamed of – and at her own pace, too – … well, whoop-de-doo.

Oh, hey. It seems I’ve found my green-eyed pet.

Anyway, so… this first installment has plenty enough for a good ‘while-the-time-away’ read. Even if Amelia can sometimes be quite long-winded as she lays out (to the reader) her motives, her observations, or even her knee-jerk reactions or thoughts. Or perhaps it’s just Peters reflecting how a person during that period would express herself.

The skirmishes they have had with their mysterious wrapped and moaning menace can be exasperating, I admit. Half the time I look on at Emerson (or Radcliffe, I should say. Dashing, no?) and Company as more fumbling than anything else.

(Amelia’s foamy, feminine garb, always getting in the way, was apparently as much a villain as their ‘mummy’.)

And that’s when I belatedly recall that these people are scholars or just average citizens with no aspirations for any heroic endeavors. So I suppose I should scold myself when I rant and wonder why Emerson, in the midst of danger, is not engaging in acts that are more… daring? Bold? Dash-ing?

When I do consider it, there is something refreshing at the image of an unwilling ‘hero’ who is ‘dark’ and ‘brooding’ but surprisingly not menacing or possessed of breathtaking dexterity at weaponry or any other secret lethal skill. In a way, this Emerson fella has that nice balance of a quietly dependable ability that can be reassuring without being that overly hot-stuff “manly-man”.

Is it becoming a little obvious that halfway thru the book I became more engrossed with the dynamics between Emerson and Amelia? Their verbal sparring is actually more enthralling than when the mummy shambles up into their midst. By the time revelations were made anyway, the whole storyline has become somewhat gauche.

Which reminds me, if you’ve read up to this point, I should probably have pointed out that this “Amelia Peabody Mystery” has got no sleuthing of any kind.

When I realized that, I just transferred my curiosity towards Emerson and Amelia. Blame it on the many romance novels I fed myself through the years. Give me one sniff of an attraction between two vibrant characters and I would expect passion before the story ends.

And sure enough, a kiss or two were exchanged. If ambiguously.

Amelia, being Peabody, understandably spared herself the luxury of for-once letting herself go and wax over toe-curling desire, so the reader will just have to content herself with the knowledge that she and Emerson really have the hots for each other.

Overall though? This was not terribly satisfying if your thirst was for a game of clues and perhaps a race for time (or something along those lines). Even the archaeological aspect dwindled away shortly after crossing the halfway mark.

If I have to be callous about it, it’s more of a case of much ado about nothing. Or maybe I’m just whining over the fact that Egyptian ruins had to be center stage for all this drama when in fact Egypt has got nothing to do with it at all.

Did that even make sense? No? Eh, never mind …

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