Wednesday 9 September 2015

#CBR7 Book 85: "Crocodile on the Sandbank" by Elizabeth Peters

Page count: 262 pages
Rating: 5 stars

Intrepid Victorian spinster Amelia Peabody travels to Egypt after her father's death, determined to explore the world and see the treasures she's read about for so many years. On her way through Rome, she is forced to send her companion home, but meets a lovely young lady in distress, and they strike up an instant friendship. Evelyn Barton-Forbes is the granddaughter of an earl, seduced by a scoundrel and left destitute in Italy. Disowned by her grandfather, Evelyn is rather desperate, but the practical and pragmatic Amelia loves the idea of a protegee and insists they travel together. As their friendship develops, it's clear that Evelyn, with her quiet persuasion is able to subtly influence her new companion in positive ways as well.

In Egypt, the ladies make the acquaintance of the Emerson brothers, Walter and Radcliffe. While Walter and Evelyn pretty much instantly fall in love, the relationship between Amelia and Radcliffe is rather more turbulent. Of course, being a destitute and fallen woman, Evelyn believes that Walter is way too good for her. Amelia, naturally, has other ideas. When visiting the brothers at their archaeological dig, the ladies are intrigued by rumours of a curse and the dig site possibly being haunted by a vengeful mummy. While they are all educated individuals, as the accidents keep getting more and more serious, involving disappearances and near-death experiences, it's clear that someone needs to step in and solve the mystery, and who better than Amelia?

I first discovered Elizabeth Peters back in early 1999, when my best friend Lydia sent me this book as a belated Christmas present. She'd mentioned the series, I was curious and fell in love with Amelia in the very first chapter, if my memory doesn't deceive me. I'm a big fan of the Victorian lady sleuth, among them Lady Julia Grey and  Lady Emily Ashton, but Amelia Peabody was probably the first series I pretty much obsessively read my way through. In complete honesty, I haven't read the last few books in the series, as it does get derivative, repetitive and needlessly soapy and melodramatic as the books go on, but the earlier books are solid gold entertainment. After Narfna read and reviewed this recently, I started thinking about the books, and decided that since it must be at least a decade since I read this book, it was time for a re-read.

Obviously, since I had rated the book 5 stars, I remembered it being good. But I think I actually got even more out of it now, having aged a bit myself, and improved my grasp of the English language even more. I had completely forgotten just how clever the plotting is, how great and mutually empowering the friendship between Evelyn (who I had incorrectly remembered as a bit wet and useless - not at all the case) and Amelia is and obviously, how amazing the slow-burning romance between Peabody and her Emerson is. Anyone looking for lots of sexy times should check out Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase instead (or you know - as well, as it's a wonderful romance), because this is a mystery first, romance second. There is some kissing, but Ms. Peters makes you wait for it. What you do get is feminist spinsters, girl power, archaeology, mystery, mummies, cranky bachelors, gentle flirting, dangerous schemes and a wonderful adventure. I'm so glad I re-visited Amelia's first book. Once all my books are unpacked and organised on my shelves, I may re-read the rest of the early series too.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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