Monday, January 25, 2010

The Laughter of Dead Kings by Elizabeth Peters

Who stole Egypt's priceless treasure? This question haunts the authorities after a distinguished British gentleman cons his way past a security guard and carries off a world-famous relic. The brazen crime bears all the marks of Sir John Smythe, international art thief and longtime "significant other" of Vicky Bliss. When John swears his innocence, Vicky takes a hiatus from her Munich art museum job and sets out with John for the Middle East.

Pursued by Interpol, the Egyptian police, gangs of antiquities thieves, and her inquisitive boss, Vicky is determined to find the real culprit. But each new clue raises even more questions for the intrepid Vicky, and when a ransom note arrives accompanied by a grisly memento, it appears murder most foul must be added to the equation.

There are some authors that you can forgive more than others for missteps. For me, Elizabeth Peters is one of those authors. For example, I have talked before about how I find the relationship between Harper and Tolliver in Charlaine Harris' Harper Connelly series a bit 'squicky', but it doesn't bother me if I am talking about Ramses and Nefret who share a similar degree of a closeness in the Amelia Peabody series. Another example, without giving too much away is that the characters from the Vicky Bliss series end up intersecting with the storylines from the Amelia Peabody series, which was fun. Not sure that every author out there could pull it off so seamlessly, but here it worked for the most part.

So given that I am highlighting things that did work for me, does that mean that there are things that didn't work so much for me? Unfortunately yes.

The first thing that I really struggled with when reading this book is the fact that it has a contemporary setting, meaning that the characters send and receive email, text messages, carry mobile phones. Why should that bother me? Actually it probably wouldn't have bothered me all that much except for the fact that in the author note at the beginning of the book, Elizabeth Peters acknowledged the fact that the first Vicky Bliss book was released in 1973 and had a contemporary setting. The last book in the series was released in 1994 and had a 'current' setting, and now this book was released in 2008, and again had a current setting. Vicky as a character has only aged a couple of years and in 35 years the world has changed a lot. The author talked about it being the 'current now', and basically says I don't really care about the timing issues as I am the God of the Vicky Bliss universe. If I hadn't of read the author note at the beginning, I probably would have started reading and not even really noticed the 'current now' issues, but because it was pointed out to me, every time one of these incidents happened in the first 100 or so pages, I was jolted out of the book. So every time on of the characters took out their cell phone to make a call, or checked their emails, or whatever it was, it took me a minute to get back into the story again, and most of the time it didn't add a great deal to the storyline anyway.

When I was sitting down to write this reaction (don't think it is really a review as such), I wandered over to have a look at the Amazon reviews, simply because I wanted to see if the next thing I was going to talk about bothered anyone else. Apparently not, so I must be on my own on this one. It's not the first time I have seen this in a book (I think it happened in Dan Brown's last book but I am not 100% sure) but I really, really don't like it when an author writes themself into the story as a character! I don't want to say too much more though. The only thing that had any saving grace in this case was that the appearance hinted at more Amelia Peabody books, but that didn't save the situation completely for me. In that same vain, having a character from of the series you write reading books from the other series that you right really isn't that good a move, in my opinion anyway.

It may sounds as though I didn't enjoy this book, but I really did. There were large sections of the novels where I was lost in the world that Peters has created, especially in the sections in Egypt, and seeing the contrast between the Egypt of the Peabody series (late 1890-1920s) to now. What I would suggest however is that this is not a place to start if you are interested in reading Elizabeth Peters. This novel assumes that you have read previous books in the series, that you understand the dynamics of the relationship between Vicky and John, and with the other minor characters, many of whom are returning for repeat appearances from earlier books in the series.

The best part in this novel was in relation to Vicky's lovable, eccentric and apparently very wealthy boss, Herr Schmidt who reveals a very handy talent in this novel, which is a lot of fun.

I guess to summarise, this book was obviously one that was written for the fans. I am not sure that this book needed to be written as the ending of Night Train to Memphis seems to really tie most of the loose ends up sufficiently. I am glad to read it, and to be honest, if Elizabeth Peters was to announce another Vicky Bliss novel, I would definitely still read it. The Vicky Bliss series is fun, but for me, the Amelia Peabody books are still my favourite Peters' books.

Rating: 3.5/5


  1. I read a Peters novel a while ago and remember liking it a lot. I agree with you about adding the new technology though. It pulls you out of the story and takes a minute to get used to.

  2. Hi Marg,

    Thanks for dropping by my newish book blog. I've just read through yours. Wow! Very inspirational and you've put me on to a couple of challenges and other memes that I can't resist.

    I've added you as a link in my blog roll. I was so glad to see a comment by another Australian book blogger!

    I'll be back! Lots.

  3. I somehow can't get into either of the Peters serieses, although they seem like the kind of thing I'd like. But kids books prepared me for characters coasting in the eternal "now" -- Ramona Quimby is always written at the time she is written, if that makes sense. So even if Beverly Clearly took ten years between books, Ramona skipped over those years and just moved up one grade.

    So I'm primed to accept stuff like that. L'Engle did some similar stuff, mixing up her families but not worrying if the chronology is straight. I think it works within families, but if you try to align them things are broken.

  4. Beth, to be honest, if Peters hadn't of mentioned it I probably wouldn't have thought about it at all.

    Thanks Amanda. It's always good to find another Aussie book blogger.

    Thanks for dropping by Amy.

  5. I so agree on all fronts! I found her bizarre insistence on forcibly inserting modern technology to be very jarring. And you're completely right that it was a book for the fans (particularly the ending when she ties it all back to the Amelia books, oy!).

    Thanks for this review, it was great to hear another person have the same issues with the book that I did.