Bree T's Reviews > The Curse of the Pharaohs

The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters
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's review
Apr 29, 2011

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bookshelves: historical-fiction, library-reads, mystery, series
Read on April 28, 2011

In this novel we fast-forward a couple of years. Emerson and Amelia are living in Kent in England in some sort of semi-normal domestic bliss that neither relishes. They have agreed to put a stop to their archeological exploits until their son, Walter (nicknamed Ramses) is old enough to accompany them. Egypt is not a place for a young child so Emerson is lecturing at a University. Neither of them fit into their new lifestyle and both long to return to the dusty digs where they met. An opportunity is presented to them when they are paid a visit by Lady Baskerville, wife of the late Lord Baskerville. Lord Baskerville had discovered a tomb and had put together a team to investigate it when things started going horribly wrong, ending in the Lord’s murder. As it was his ‘greatest wish’ to see the tomb excavated and catalogued, Lady Baskerville wants to honour his memory by finishing his dream and she looks to one of the best in Emerson.

After some agonising and deliberation, Emerson and Amelia agree to leave their son behind in the care of Emerson’s brother Walter and his wife Evelyn and undertake the journey to Egypt. When they arrive they find things in a bit of a mess with rumours of a ghost who is sabotaging the dig. Staying with Lady Baskerville and a team of eccentric workers and hangers-on in a compound that Lord Baskerville had built especially, Emerson and Amelia are soon embroiled in all the mystery and make each other a bit of a wager to unmask the killer of the late-Lord. It’s an investigation that Amelia realises she had better solve – and fast! – because the bodies are starting to pile up.

This second novel opens in England where even after some years, Amelia and Emerson are not comfortable in English society. This is evidenced in a scene describing Emerson alienating one of their neighbours and then later deciding he wants something from him and in an attempt to smooth things over, Amelia hosts a tea for the neighbours wife and some of her friends. In just those two simple scenes it’s immediately evident how unsatisfied they are with their lives and even though they do adore their so-intelligent-he-is-scary son, the sacrifice of giving up Egypt and living in England is weighing on them. When the rather dramatic Lady Baskerville sweeps in at the end of the disastrous tea, it’s all they can do not to jump on her offer, even though they very politely decline and make noises about their son and how they couldn’t possibly go back.

But oh, they could! And they do. For Emerson can’t resist a possibly-untouched tomb (and neither can Amelia, for that matter). So they pack the precocious Ramses off to his aunt and uncle’s and make the journey to Egypt. A cast of colourful characters (each one it seems, more colourful than the last) arrive to stay at the compound and as the excavation begins (Emerson having overcome superstition by hiring his own workers and paying well) and matters soon begin to get complicated. Secret heirs, attempted murders (and some successful ones) bring much attention to the tomb site as the rumours of a sabotaging ghost fly. The locals are very superstitious and even Emerson’s loyal team are tempted to flee. Matters are further complicated by Amelia’s suspicion of the ‘grieving widow’ who she thinks displays rather too much interest in her husband and a young girl Emerson has hired as a sketch artist who has attracted any number of admirers. Before she knows it, Amelia is caught up in several different emotional dramas, despite Emerson telling her not to bother with such things. She knows she can discover the killer in time, she just hopes she can do it before too many more people die!

I’m not sure how I feel about the introduction of a child so quickly into these novels because it seems that we barely got the chance to know Emerson and Amelia as a proper married couple, although they do leave him pretty quick smart in this novel! At this stage the son, Ramses is slightly irritating, so I’m glad he was shipped “off-screen” because I’m not sure I could’ve taken the whole book if he was in it. I’m told by people who’ve read much further on than me that he turns into an awesome character so I’m prepared to wade through an annoying childhood and possible adolescence to get to that stage!

Like the first novel, I did guess the identity of the culprit but I still enjoyed the journey just as much as if I hadn’t guessed. I think it’s the very simple way in which these stories are told, coupled with really funny, unique characters that you don’t always like but always add something. Amelia is still a really likable narrator and I found her sparring matches with Emerson a bit jarring again at first but I soon slipped into the rhythm of them and really, if I admit it to myself, they could be my husband and I on occasion, just talking of a different topic!

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