Okay bookies, I admit it. I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series of mysteries, so much so that I’ve also listened to the unabridged audiobook of A Thousand Miles Up the Nile, the book that inspired the series. Someone asked me if this series wasn’t a bit romancy for me. Well, yeah, maybe. I do get tired of Amelia lusting after Emerson’s body, but that seems a small price to pay for the great books that follow.
This review originally ran in iloveamysterynewsletter.com.
TOMB OF THE GOLDEN BIRD by Elizabeth Peters.
The 1922 archaeological season in Egypt promises to be disappointing for the Sitt Hakim and the Father of Curses, known to millions of in-the-know readers as Egyptologists Amelia Peabody and her husband, the renowned professor Radcliff Emerson. They are stuck working in the West Valley in the Valley of the Kings on tombs already found, when Emerson knows there is glory to be found in the East Valley. But the East has been given to a rival of the Emersons, one Howard Carter and his patron Lord Carnarvon. And it isn’t long before they meet their destiny with the mostly unknown pharaoh named Tutankhamon.
And so the series that centers around Egyptology and began in the late Victorian era, that has seen both the Boer War and the First World War come and go, has finally caught up with the most famous Egyptological discovery of the last 200 years, perhaps ever. After spending decades digging in dusty, looted tombs or crumbling pyramids, at last there is bright gold and precious objects left undisturbed for millennia, a veritable pot-of-gold at the end of the archaeological rainbow. And in typical fashion the good professor has allowed his temper easy access to his tongue and so the Emersons may have no part of the glory.
As the entries in this long-running series have mounted in number the mysteries themselves have grown uneven in quality; some are intriguing, some are thin. Fortunately, this series long ago quit revolving around solving puzzles and wondering who dunnit. Like any beloved literary works, this series is about the characters and the places and this entry has just about every living character left in the series making an appearance.
When Sethos shows up shivering with malaria and possessing a secret coded document, with pursuers close behind and an unlikely tale of intrigue, the Emerson family sighs a collective ‘not again.’ A half-hearted attack on Emerson and his son Ramses puts the family in danger, they are being watched, there is at least one languid kidnapping…the author seems to be dredging up things to happen, almost from a checklist. ‘Hmmm…haven’t had a bomb explode for a while. Now’s a good time.’
Fortunately, none that matters! Forget the plot and enjoy the ride. The author’s roots in Egyptology shine here; the reader can almost envision her drooling at the chance to finally use Tut in a book, to immerse herself in the research of opening and excavating the tomb, of having Emerson and Amelia and Nefret and Ramses and just about their entire clan watch as Carter’s ‘marvelous things’ are carried from Tut’s tomb to the nearby tomb of Seti II for cataloging and storage. There is almost a climactic feeling here, a sense that at long last Amelia and her brood have opened a door the author has long wanted opened.
The Tomb of the Golden Bird is a fine entry in a fine series that one day will rank as a true classic of modern crime fiction. Not necessarily the best entry; however, there are few low spots at all in this series and this one is far closer to the top than the bottom. Great fun, of course, but more to the point, once you’ve begun reading Golden Bird you get the feeling that Amelia has been standing there all along, arms crossed and foot tapping, wondering what’s taken you so long to get there.