Thursday, May 26, 2011

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

Various copies of the book exists, this is the front cover of mine
Amelia Peabody is Elizabeth Peters' best loved and brilliant creation, a thoroughly Victorian feminist who takes the stuffy world of archaeology by storm with her shocking men's pants and no-nonsense attitude!

In this first Egyptian mystery, our headstrong heroine decides to use her substantial inheritance to see the world. On her travel, she rescues a gentlewoman in distress - Evelyn Barton-Forbes - and the two become friends. The two companions continue to Egypt where they face mysteries, mummies and the redoubtable Radcliffe Emerson, and outspoken archaeologist, who doesn't need women to help him solve mysteries - at least that's what he thinks!

I am sure there are others like me, who have eyed up this series from afar, alongside the MC Beaton books and other historical fiction series (I'm specifically thinking about the one that takes place in ancient Rome as well as the series featuring a sleuthing monk as main character) and felt a bit at a loss.  Can you start anywhere?  Is it best to start at the beginning.

In this instance, I decided to start my Amelia Peabody experience right from the beginning.  I wanted to know as much as I could about the character and her adventures because I like to think that if I had lived back then, and I had been a lady of means, I too would have travelled the world in an eccentric fashion.

On the surface, Amelia is very much a product of the Victorian age.  Very proper (in some matters), forward thinking, highly educated (due to her father's belief that a woman does have a brain and needs to use it), and dauntless.  Also brave.  Very brave.  She is a big girl, tall, well endowed but of a certain age.  She believes herself unattractive and unmarriageable.  Although there had been some interest in her after her father's passing, which left her extremely well off, she is not fooled.  And that is what I loved about Amelia - terribly forthright and no-nonsense, yet deep within she is this fantastic dreamer.  But more of that later.

As well learned as Amelia is, very little prepares her for her actual travel.  She has a companion whom she does not like very much, and so decides to send her back to England as soon as possible.  Whilst sojourning in Rome she meets the wonderful Evelyn who honestly suits Amelia to a T.  The two strike up an amazing friendship - one that had me giggling and laughing out loud.  Amelia's no-nonsense factoid world is unexpectedly invaded by a very determined young woman called Evelyn and instead of Amelia pampering this delicate flower, she finds Evelyn quite stubborn and unexpectedly creative.  She arranges for various outfits for Amelia's wardrobe and quite alarms Amelia that she gets away with it!

Evelyn's story is closely tied in with the entire plot for the novel, but I'll do my best not to give anything away.  Needless to say Evelyn and Amelia's travels do not go quite as planned.  Once they get to Egypt and Amelia secures a boat for them to travel down the Nile (or rather, up the Nile) things go a bit...wrong.  There are delays with getting the boat prepared and fitted out to her exacting standards (imagine brand new hangings in the parlour to match her new red dress (!!) as well as a piano being installed) but once that is underway, and they've managed to antagonise the brilliantly grumpy Radcliffe Emerson and his younger brother, Walter.  The sparks fly.  Radcliffe is beyond rude.  He is opinionated, arrogant and blinkered.  But he is a brilliant archaeologist.  Walter on the other hand is a lovely guy and falls for poor Evelyn so loudly all of Egypt could hear it.  He is in deep contrast with his brother and fully aware of how boorish Radcliffe is. 

They set off for their designated dig and Evelyn is a bit heart sore.  Eventually Amelia and Evelyn's boat is ready - they have a crew, provisions, everything is ready and they too set sail for their adventure.

Obviously there are some obstacles along the way - mainly Amelia who insists on stopping at as many historical sites as they could as they travel along the Nile.  She clambers everywhere and gets as mucky as you can imagine.  In this respect she is completely the rebel and I loved her for it!  Her vigorous brain is well informed and nothing seems to monumental a task to complete.  It is also this behaviour that reveals what a dreamer she is. 

They eventually happen to meet up with Emerson and Walter again and this is where the nitty gritty of the novel takes place, at this remote dig with the rumours of treasure, rebel kings and the disappearance (and reappearance) of a mummy who seems extraordinarily fascinated with Evelyn.  It is a set-work of fantastic characterisation, peppered with political and local knowledge against a colourful backdrop of a changing world.  I love Ms. Peters attention to detail and how vibrant her character (both main and secondary) are.  They really made such a great impression.

I admit.  I fell in love with Ms. Amelia Peabody and she has become my heroine.  I will be reading the rest of the series this year and by all counts, I am in for a big treat.  I have heard tremendous things about it and I hope you enjoy the ride with me.

The Amelia Peabody books are published by Constable (Constable and Robinson) here in the UK.


serendipity_viv said...

One of my friends read this recently and fell in love Amelia too. She kept quoting bits too me. I do have this one, so I will pull it out to read.

Anonymous said...

I'm SO glad you liked it because it's one of my favourite historical mystery series. And seriously, it gets better!

Linda said...

I've always considered Peabody one of my heroines - such a personality! Keep reading: it only gets more intriguing, and some of the new characters who arrive are just as fascinating.

Heidenkind said...

My mom owns this entire series and I remember being fascinated by this cover when I was little!