|Image from author's website|
My introduction to the fertile imagination of Ms Mertz was through the Amelia Peabody series of books (written under the name Elizabeth Peters) which featured a feisty Victorian female archaeologist who spent most summers in Egypt ably assisting her very gruff husband Walter Emerson and trying to keep track of her son Ramses. Given that dead bodies turned up nearby with alarming regularity, Amelia also spent time investigating crimes and trying to outwit her nemesis always armed with her trusty parasol which was loaded with every conceivable weapon.
I loved that her books were so full of archaeological detail but were also balanced with a great sense of fun and, yes, a good splash of romance and implied sexiness. There was nothing overt in the way that the scenes were described by the author could quite easily get me to swoon over Emerson initially and then even more so over Ramses.
While I love the series as a whole, there was a four book story arc that started in Seeing a Large Cat and finished with He Shall Thunder in the Sky which is one of my favourite section of the series- just so fabulous to read.
While Amelia Peabody was the star of the longest running series by Peters, it was not the only one of her series that I have read. I did also read the Vicky Bliss series featuring an art historian, a gentleman thief and a whole heap of adventures around many famous cities. I know that for some people Vicky eclipses Amelia as their favourite Peters heroine but for me, Amelia is still tops. I wasn't as enamoured by the last book in the series either which is unfortunate. I haven't yet read the Jacqueline Bliss books, which from memory are harder to get hold of through my library system, which is kind of ironic given that the main character is a librarian who turns into a romance novelist. I did notice that early books in these two series seem to have been rereleased in the last couple of days, which means that their rerelease coincides with the date of her death.
I am sure that the fact that her female characters are so adventurous, so feisty and so intelligent reflects something of her own characteristics, especially when you have a look at her own life experiences. She was an Egyptologist who had published non fiction works on the subject, she wrote a number of books about other topics and I suspect she must have had a wicked sense of humour in real life. Her books were certainly funny.
In a way, I feel like a bit of a fraud writing a post about having enjoyed her writing so much. I knew that it had been a while since I read an Amelia book, and that I still had more of the series to read, but I was totally shocked when I looked back on my spreadsheet and realised that I hadn't read any of the Amelia Peabody books for more than 4 years, which is an awfully long time. How does that even happen? This is a series I thoroughly enjoy with characters I love and so much more to read and yet the series seems to have fallen off my radar a little bit. I will definitely be rectifying this as soon as I can.
In closing, I would say thank you Barbara Mertz for using your wonderfully fertile imagination to bring your characters to life, for making your readers feel as they were there with you whether it be in the deserts of Egypt or the streets of Rome or anywhere else and for making us laugh and care.
It only seems fitting to give Elizabeth Peters the final words. Here she talks about Amelia and cats and more:
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, The Tudor Conspiracy by C W Gortner and listening to A Song of Fire and Ice by George R R Martin
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell