Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What I Read in June 2015 Part VII

What I Read in June 2015 Part VII ...

Amelia Peabody Mysteries by Elizabeth Peters-- Historical Cozy Mysteries

Crocodile on the Sandbank

Miss Amelia Peabody, a thirty-one-year-old spinster finally has the freedom and money to travel. She decides to visit Egypt, which fascinated her antiquarian scholar father. Along the way, in Rome, she comes to the aid of a young woman lying in a dead faint. When the locals shun the young woman fearing disease, Amelia realizes the girl is suffering from hunger and exhaustion. The girl, Evelyn Barton-Forbes, was abandoned by her lover and disowned by her grandfather. She was about to take her own life when Amelia hires her as a companion. They travel to Egypt together on an historical tour. One night in Cairo, Amelia thinks she sees something unusual out the window. When they arrived in El Armana, they make the acquaintance of Radcliffe and Walter Emerson, noted archeologists. Emerson, as the elder brother is known, is the antithesis of the typical fortune-hunting archeologist. He cares deeply for the antiquities and the society he studies. He's also a misogynist and determined to butt heads with Amelia at every turn. When the English travelers receive a mysterious midnight visitor, the locals insist it's the spirit of the magician-priest mummy the archeologists had found. Emerson thinks the villagers is trying to scare the archeologists away so they can rob a rich tomb. Amelia thinks there is a more sinister motive when the mummy starts to target Evelyn.

I liked the plot of this book. It took awhile to really get into. There was too much exposition to get through. I knew the villain had to be one of two people or both but I couldn't quite connect the dots to how or why. The reveal wasn't a huge surprise but some of the details of the perfidy of the villain surprised me a bit - but my instincts had told me not to trust that person. The historical details are quite good. I don't know much about archeology and I only know a little bit about that part of the world from a little later time period. The author also includes details of fashion and how the fashions of the day were designed to keep women subservient. (She doesn't use that word but it's obvious every time Amelia is hampered by her skirts and wishes for trousers). That was mentioned one too many times. I wanted to yell - get a needle and thread and some sturdy canvas fabric and sew some! The mummy was frightening, but not so much for the reader who knows there must be a rational explanation, but frightening for the characters and for the reader who fears the characters may be in danger. The one thing that really bugged me about this book was the constant - historically accurate- belittling of the native Egyptians and the "Rule Britannia" mentality. Even Amelia had a lot of disparaging comments about the locals just because they follow a different set of superstitions/religion, are not as educated as Europeans and don't keep their homes in the same way. I know the attitude is historically and culturally correct but there were just too many of those comments. The only other thing I didn't like was the ending. It was cute and part of me was hoping for just such an ending but the other part of me- the part that strongly identified with her - didn't like it.

I really relate to Amelia, being a spinster of uncertain years like her, sensible, no-nonsense and intellectually curious. However, I found her just TOO modern for a Victorian woman. Would she even know to ask Evelyn that question or how to articulate it? I liked how she was so capable of taking care of herself and others but yet she was a managing female and sometimes I wished she would back off or shut up. I kind of sympathized with Emerson! Evelyn is very sweet and kind but her self-sacrificing nature annoyed me as much as it did Amelia and I also found her constant swooning very annoying. Her cousin Lucas comes across as a total fop. He loves wine and flattering women. He's typical of the English gentry of this period. I found him too nice to be likeable. He becomes more human later on. The Emerson brothers are the make equivalent of Amelia and Evelyn. Emerson is rough around the edges, no-nonsense and gruff, but his passion and dedication make him an enjoyable character - if not likeable. Walter isn't as fleshed out. We don't get to know him very well. He's nice, kind, has a sense of humor about his brother's personality and is an excellent linguist. He is basically Evelyn in trousers. I would have liked a little more about him.

Content: The romance/s is/are clean and kisses only, however, Evelyn is a fallen woman and Amelia asks her what it feels like to be with a lover.
There's some violence at the end but nothing too graphic.

I liked this story enough to want to read more about Amelia. I don't know if I will read the later books in the series but if I get attached to the characters enough I will.

The Curse of the Pharaohs (Amelia Peabody, #2)The Curse of the Pharaohs 
When Lord Baskerville, a noted amateur archaeologist dies in Egypt, his widow chooses Emerson to carry on his mission. Naturally Emerson demurs - he can't leave Amelia or their beloved three-year-old holy terror Ramses - or can he? Emerson and Amelia are both bored with Victorian gentry life and miss the thrill of their work in the Middle East. They place Ramses in the loving Care of Evelyn and Walter's nursery and off they go. Amelia is certain that Lord Baskerville did not die of natural causes, for marked on his forehead was the Uraeus (the stylized, upright form of an Egyptian cobra used as a symbol of sovereignty, royalty, deity, and divine authority in ancient Egypt). There's also the small matter of his missing archeologist excavator. Emerson thinks there's nothing afoot and dismisses the native superstitions about Pharaohs' curses the English press, led by Kevin O'Connell, seem to enjoy. Amelia is determined to solve the mystery and prove herself to Emerson. She's also determined to play matchmaker and get to the bottom of a romantic triangle. Emerson wishes she'd just put safe and sound. This is one battle of the sexes that fans of the first book won't want to miss.

I liked this book so much more than the first one. There's more humor in it, for one thing, and the mystery was very hard to figure out. There are a large number of suspects in this story and I didn't figure it out. When I was up in the wee hours of the early morning, I had to skip ahead to find out who the murderer was before I could sleep. I was a little surprised at the reveal. The motive was very weak and the events that transpired seemed stupid in comparison to some of the other theories. The Egyptian history parts seemed based on King Tut's tomb, opened in the 1920s. There's less complicated facts thrown out at the reader because most of us are familiar with King Tut. Emerson and Amelia don't find him all that important or interesting in the grand scheme of things but their work is important in understanding and preserving Egyptian history so they persist. The Victorian British snobbery is present but toned down a lot from the first book so it's palatable for a modern audience.

The characters in this story are top-notch. Amelia is more human and more feminine. She still has a good head on her shoulders but she's strong-willed enough to defy her husband when he tries to keep her safe. She reminds me of Lady Julia Gray but more together. Amelia has some very funny scenes. I just love the relationship between Amelia and Emerson. We get to know him much better in this book. He has some hidden depths that only Amelia sees regularly. He surprised me. Amelia and Emerson are a very loving couple but anything more than kisses and buttons popping is fade to black. Their son, Ramses, takes the cake. He is so precocious and such a little tyrant, he reminds me of my younger niece. Ramses needs boarding school -pronto!

The other really funny character is Madame Berengaria. I don't really know what her deal was, attention maybe, but she was really really funny with her Egyptian reincarnation pronouncements. I did not like Lady Baskerville pretty much for the same reasons Amelia didn't. She put me off from the start and it was obvious she meant to have Emerson to herself. The other characters include an American millionaire, who, judging from his speech, might currently be from New York, but was raised in the West or Texas. There's also an Irish reporter who would do anything for a story; a lovestruck German lexicographer; Mary, a devoted daughter and talented artist, and Bastest, the cat.

This book must be read after the first or start here and go forward but not backwards. There are spoilers. 

The Mummy Case (Amelia Peabody, #3)The Mummy Case 

Amelia and Emerson are back in Egypt, along with their overly precocious son Ramses and the cat Bastet. Since Emerson refused to apply for a firman in advance, De Morgan, the director of antiquities has already chosen the pyramids Emerson had promised Amelia. Emerson's hot temper got him reduced to excavating a Roman cemetery and flattened pyramids. The Emersons are also beset by missionaries and are kept on their toes keeping their son out of trouble. Walter has requested papyri and when Amelia visits a somewhat less shady antiquities dealer in Cairo, he claims he doesn't have any papyri, but Amelia senses he's lying. She had spotted an unsavory character speaking with the dealer only hours before she discovers the man dead. Ramses discovered a Coptic papyrus in the shop and took it to study the language. While on their expedition, the Emersons discover a rash of unusual break-ins and a missing mummy case that keeps appearing in the oddest places. Amelia is convinced the events are connected and there's some Master Criminal behind the operations. Emerson is certain it's just a coincidence. Who will prove correct?

I wasn't as into this mystery as the previous one. I never guessed who the Master Criminal was and neither did Amelia. I suspected a lot of people and the answer came out of thin air. I made some correct guesses about a few clues but I never put them all together to solve the mystery. I also figured a certain character held the clue and I was right but that character's actions were so unusual and out of place that I found it hard to believe they solved the mystery. I believe there are a few Wizard of Oz references or perhaps coincidences as that book had not yet been published. (What year is it anyway if the bustle is still in but it's enough past 1887 to refer to '87?)

Amelia is wonderful as always. She's logical and analytical but feminine enough to smell a love triangle a mile away and want to interfere. I love her with Emerson but this book lacked a lot of the witty banter from the previous books. They still banter and they still value their alone time but having Ramses along changed the tone of the relationship aspect of the story. Emerson's hot temper annoyed me and like Amelia, I think he should have let her handle things. Ramses annoyed the heck out of me. I hate overly precocious children in novels and having a precocious 6 year old in the house as a benchmark shows me that Ramses is completely unrealistic. He provides a lot of comic relief though. I especially enjoyed his new pet!

The secondary characters were a mixed bag. John was interesting and funny, especially when he forgot his vowels. Like the Emersons I did not like the missionaries. Brother Ezekiel was especially annoying and I think if I were Emerson I would not have been so polite and if I were Amelia, I would have rescued Charity. Charity has all my sympathy and my heart went out to her. She's a victim of abuse from her religious zealot brother who forces her to essentially be his slave. I hated every scene she was in and was hoping for a different ending. Brother David surprised me a lot. I didn't like him very much but was also expecting something a little different from his plot. The baroness provided some comic relief and advanced the plot but was largely unnecessary.

I don't know if I will read the next book in the series. I stayed up waaayy to late speed reading and skimming this one.

More reviews on this series to come!

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