Monday, November 15, 2010
The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters
"Victorian gentlewoman Amelia Peabody Emerson does not relish the joys of home and hearth. For while she and her husband, the renowned archeologist Radcliffe Emerson, dutifully go about raising their young son, Ramses, Amelia dreams only of the dust and detritus of ancient civilizations. Providentially, a damsel in distress--coupled with a promising archeological site--demands their immediate presence in Egypt. The damsel is Lady Baskerville, and the site is a tomb in Luxor recently discovered by Sir Henry Baskerville, who promptly died under bizarre circumstances. Amelia and Radcliffe arrive to find the camp in disarray, terrified workers, an eccentric group of guests...and a persistent rumor of a ghost on the grounds. Now the indomitable Amelia must battle evil forces determined to stand between her and her beloved antiquities--and make her foray into the truth a most deadly affair."
(from the publisher)
Ahhhh, Amelia Peabody! One of the most delightful Victorian characters I have had the pleasure to meet in the pages of a book. She is not the typical nineteenth-century portrait of a woman, as she so aptly informs the reader at the beginning of The Curse of the Pharaohs:
"I had invited Lady Harold Carrington and certain of her friends to tea...
Do not, gentle reader, be misled by this introductory statement. It is
accurate (as my statements always are); but if you expect the tale that
follows to be one of pastoral domesticity, enlivened only by gossip about
the country gentry, you will be sadly mistaken. Bucolic peace is not
my ambience, and the giving of tea parties is by no means my favorite
amusement. In fact, I would prefer to be pursued across the desert
by a band of savage Dervishes brandishing spears and howling for my
blood. I would rather be chased up a tree by a mad dog, or face a
mummy risen from the grave. I would rather be threatened by knives,
pistols, poisonous snakes, and the curse of a long-dead king."
I think you get the picture.
As the tale begins, Peabody (as her irascible but charming husband calls his wife) and Emerson have now been married five years and have settled into a quiet and respectable routine. Emerson is a lecturer at a London University and Amelia stays dutifully at home. Not by choice, mind you.....both are still secretly longing for the thrill of advenure and excitement that an archaeological dig promises; it's just that now there is Ramses, their adorable, precocious, part genius/part little tyrant son. It is obvious that conditions on a dig are dangerous, unhealthy, and are no place for a child, but when Emerson is summoned to Egypt by Lady Baskerville, widow of the archaeologist, Sir Henry Baskerville, Amelia and her husband begin to consider the possibility of returning to their shared passion. Reluctantly leaving their prodigy in the loving care of Aunt Evelyn (the damsel-in-distress from book l), they set off for the site of a tomb in Luxor which Sir Baskerville was in the process of uncovering before he mysteriously died.
Personally, I believe the "mystery" in the Amelia Peabody books plays a backseat to the entertaining repartee between Amelia and Emerson. (Although I hear from Amelia Peabody aficionados that her plots become increasingly more complex and compelling.) It's been fun to watch the evolution of their relationship, and now, with the addition of their first child, there is the added dimension of their unorthodox approaches to parenting. Lots of chuckles (you'll love their little boy...he's a cross between Bam Bam and Einstein); quick, light reading.....you just can't go wrong with this delightful series.
Title: The Curse of the Pharaohs
Author: Elizabeth Peters
Grand Central Publishing
genre: Victorian mystery