THE SERPENT ON THE CROWN
By: Elizabeth Peters
HarperCollins, New York
For those who relish their archaeological mysteries-or any kind of mystery,
for that matter-there are few reading delights that can surpass the
publication of a new Amelia Peabody novel. Elizabeth Peters can be depended
upon for rollicking adventure, intricate plots and very often laugh-out-loud
dialogue, and in this, her 17th Amelia Peabody novel, she does not
disappoint! In fact, I believe this to be one of her very best outings, and
I cringe when I read that the Peabody series may be winding up in the next
volume or two.
The New Year of 1922 finds the Emerson entourage back in Egypt and back to
the scene of many of their former adventures-Luxor and the Valley of the
Kings. The bombastic figure of Mrs. Pringle Petherick, author of numerous
volumes of Victorian Era vampire fiction, invades the Emerson household and
literally forces upon the pater familias of the clan a small golden
statuette of an Egyptian king-an artifact, she claims, that carries with it
a dire curse. In an almost Marx Brothers sequence of events, Mrs.
Petherick's somewhat strange stepchildren, the conflicted Adrian and the
Amazonian Harriet, interrupt a dinner with near disastrous results. The
statuette is identified as representative of the Amarna period, named for
the Middle Egypt site founded by the "heretic" king, Akhenaton, as he
attempted to force his subjects to worship the one god, Aton. While its
provenance and legal ownership remain unsolved mysteries, there is no doubt
but that the little statue is extremely valuable.
Despite the supposed curse of the statuette, attempts to steal the object
seem to point to a more worldly plot. Greed, rather than the
supernatural-the recurring figure of a black-shrouded afrit (a desert demon)
that flits throughout the pages of the novel, notwithstanding-seems to be
the motivation of the scoundrel who would steal the statue.
As the mystery unfolds, we are reacquainted with that wonderful ensemble of
characters that Elizabeth Peters has introduced us to over the years-Peabody
and Emerson, to be sure; and their son Ramses and his wife, Nefret; and now
their children, Carla and David John, whose loquacious and didactic
personality mirrors his father at an early age; Sethos, the "Master
Criminal" of earlier novels; and new four-legged members of the household,
including the almost entirely useless watchdog, Amira, and the imperious
Great Cat of Re. The dynamics of this household, which expands to include
servants and excavators, charm us as readers as we follow the twists and
turns of the typical Peabody plot.
The adventure turns serious when the redoubtable Mrs. Petherick first goes
missing from her Winter Palace Hotel suite, and is then found dead in the
rose bushes behind the famed hotel. As Amelia and her family of sleuths
close in on a murderer, archaeology begins to play a more prominent part in
the novel as Emerson plots to gain the right to excavate in that part of the
Valley of the Kings reserved to Lord Carnarvon and his chief excavator,
Howard Carter. Despite the conventional wisdom that believed no undiscovered
tombs remained in the Valley of the Kings, Car Narvon, Carter and now
Emerson believed otherwise. And now Emerson and Ramses believed the little
statue was the clue that would unlock this mystery of Egypt's long dead
The mysterious death of Mrs. Petherick is finally solved, despite the
admissions of guilt by three different suspects, and Amelia's close brush
with death at the hands of one of the culprits, and the scene is set for the
next Amelia Peabody, which, something tells me, will revolve around events
in the Valley of the Kings in November of 1922.
This is Elizabeth Peters and Amelia Peabody at their best. Four trowels.
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