Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Curse of the Pharaoh by Elizabeth Peters

*****
The second of my Amelia Peabody re-reads.

Set during the 1892-93 season, the second in the series is several years after the events described in Crocodile on the Sandbank.
We find Amelia and Emerson in more domestic circumstances, they have settled in Kent due to being unable to tear themselves away from their child, "Ramses" Walter Peabody Emerson.  Emerson has taken a post lecturing at University College and Amelia strives to be a suitable English lady and entertains the local gentry.  However, this idyll is not really suiting them, they both feel disappointed and restricted and long for a return to the excitement and romance of Egypt.  Emerson is a doting father, whilst Amelia's wry and rather scathing views of her precocious son hide her own devotion.
They are easily tempted back to Egypt by the beautiful and recently bereaved Lady Baskerville, who wants Emerson to continue her dead husband's work in a royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings.  People associated with the tomb have started to drop dead or see visions of the ghostly white lady.  The story of the Pharaoh’s Curse makes its way into the newspaper and the press become a constant irritant, particularly the irrepressible Kevin O'Connell.  None of this is a problem for the Emerson's and they leave Ramses behind with Evelyn.  Lady Baskerville and a whole cast of rather eccentric characters are not always what they seem and the story twists and turns until Amelia and Emerson have one of their little wagers on who the culprit really is.

Again, another wonderful adventure...the setting is so well described and the whole atmosphere of the Valley of the Kings just makes me want to be there!  This is the novel that introduces some of the longer serving characters; Kevin O'Connell the annoyingly persistent reporter from the Daily Yell;  Cyrus Vandergelt the wealthy and good humoured patron who becomes a great friend;  Abdullah the reiss reappears and makes a more striking impression "every year another dead body!" and the cat Bastet, who honours the Emersons with her company and becomes Ramses staunch friend in later books.  All these colourful supporting characters are beautifully written and jump off the page.

Amelia and Emerson are on form, the verbal sparring and tender affection between them is good fun.  Emerson is all bluster and in this book he manages to hold one of his famous exorcisms to the amusement and entertainment of the staff and local workers.  Amelia remains her usual brave, no nonsense self with a weakness for young lovers, but as usual she doesn't always see what is going on right in front of her!

When I first read this book (many years ago, now) I didn't really like Ramses and thought he was a twee diversion from the main story of Amelia and Emerson.  After reading the whole series I can forgive him anything and after several re-reads I appreciate him much more.  Although he only really appears at the beginning of the book his actions and strong opinions demonstrate what promise he has as he grows older.  Amelia describes him as "catastrophically precocious" with her usual acerbic tone and that sums him up exactly!

The Curse of the Pharaohs is a pleasant and entertaining read, not one of my top five of the series but with strong engaging characters, a fascinating setting and a murder mystery thrown in it's good fun.