Sunday, 30 November 2014

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

*****
Amelia Peabody is Victorian spinster who suddenly comes into wealth and independence on her father's death.  Although her father was rather distant he gave her an excellent classical education, the ability to speak several languages and an urge to see the world.  Bemused by the sudden interest shown in her somewhat limited charms by the men around her, she sets off on her travels with her forthright nature and a sturdy parasol. When the grand tour reaches Rome, she encounters Evelyn, a lady in reduced and compromised circumstances.  As Amelia is tired of being let down by her feeble companion and annoying maid, she decides that Evelyn will make a very suitable companion on her further travels into Egypt.  Amelia finds her spiritual home in Egypt and becomes a keen student of archaeology with a particular penchant for pyramids.  During their stay in Cairo they meet the Emerson brothers, the mannered Walter, who immediately charms Evelyn, and the older, irascible Radcliffe.  Evelyn's past catches up with her through her faithless lover Alberto and her cousin Lucas who wants to marry her to restore her good name and wealth after the death of her estranged grandfather the Earl of Ellesmere.  To avoid these distractions they take off on a dahabeeyah to journey down the Nile where they stop off at Armana, home of the heretic king, Akhenaten.  Here they find the Emersons' dig, but Radcliffe is seriously ill with a fever.  Amelia takes charge and nurses him back to health but they are disturbed by the wanderings of a nocturnal mummy.  The ghostly mummy spreads terror amongst the local workers, but despite strenuous efforts to catch it, the mummy appears invincible.  The atmosphere becomes threatening and tensions rise further when Lucas arrives and unsettles the early romance between Evelyn and Walter. Amelia finds the antagonistic relationship between herself and Emerson a source of frustration and something else.  Why does it appear that the mummy is after Evelyn and who will get the upper hand between Amelia and Emerson?

I have read all the Amelia Peabody books numerous times and although I've always meant to review them, I just never got around to it.  After re-visiting the whole series a couple of times a few years ago on audiobook (by the amazing Barbara Rosenblatt) I've started it all over again and might even manage to get them on my blog!  I tried a few years ago to do this but never managed to complete reviews on the first few of the series.

I found Amelia completely by accident in a London Waterstone's about fifteen years ago and was totally converted!  I love the series, they are all keepers, and even though some are  better than others and I have a few absolute favourites...I will probably rate them all as 5 star!  Every now and then I revisit and wallow in the exciting lives of the Emersons...I'm just sooo jealous, as it's a life I would love to be in!

The book is written as Amelia's journal, so it's all in first person.  Her humour and strong views are immediately apparent, it also allows for her to digress into rants about the failings of men, social climbers and other irritants.  This first outing for Amelia does take a while to get going as there's a fair bit of necessary explanation and scene setting.  She's an aged spinster (32 years old!) who describes herself as black haired, steely eyed and well endowed where it isn't fashionable.  She's a no nonsense, straight speaking busybody who pushes her way in where she isn't necessarily wanted, usually with her parasol and I think she's fab! Resigned to spinsterhood, her questioning of Evelyn is typical and sums up her attitude completely.  She contrasts with the soft, sweet natured and fairly naive Evelyn, who has been badly used by her Italian lover.  Although she could come across as wet, she isn't too saccharine and is a good foil to Amelia's less engaging personality traits.
Emerson is a huge character in all ways!  With his caustic, rather bullying manner he has the potential to be a rather unlikable character, but once in Armana with the ongoing sparring between him and Amelia he shows a more considerate side.  Obviously he's meant to be hugely attractive, all bluff but with a kind heart and the fact that he sees through Amelia's rather spiky persona also makes him more agreeable.  Walter is fairly thinly characterised and through the series doesn't seem to get much stronger...although his declaration of love is really sweet! The more bookish and even tempered brother he is the complete opposite of Emerson.

Peters rich detail and accurate portrayal of Egyptian antiquities and archaeological methodology demonstrate her expertise in this area and make it a joy. 

This series have become my perfect comfort read ...a pleasurable wallow into romance, mystery and Egypt when I need a bit of escapism.  Probably not for everyone, but I love them!