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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

January 1, 2004

Barnes & Noble Books, New York
1993 (hc)

Crocodile on the Sandbank, first published in 1975, was the first of what was to be Elizabeth Peters’ highly popular Amelia Peabody series. This series, which now includes fifteen novels, with a new entry to be published in March 2004, has consistently maintained a very high standard of quality in plot, character development and atmosphere for almost thirty years.

Elizabeth Peters, nom de plume for Egyptologist/author Barbara Michaels, has created an enduring character that is as endearingly irritating as any in modern fiction. Amelia Peabody, in this initial installment, is a woman who is both thoroughly Victorian (traveling without a female companion would be beyond the pale) in temperament, but who chafes at the systems restrictions. Having inherited a rather large sum, she embarks on a version of the Grand Tour, and with her newfound companion, Evelyn Barton-Forbes, she travels to Egypt to witness the mystery and magnificence of this ancient land. She and Evelyn meet become embroiled in adventures that include kidnapers, tomb raiders, a handsome, albeit irritating archaeologist in the person of Radcliffe Emerson (destined to become her husband and fellow adventurer in the novels to come) and even a shambling, fresh-from-the-sarcophagus mummy! Through it all, Amelia Peabody, redoubtable heroine in the making, faces all challenges with her quick intelligence and trusty bumbershoot.

Author Peters has cleverly combined the fusty style of the Victorian romance (the series is an “edited” version of Amelia’s personal journals over the decades) with insights into a 19th Century Egypt colonized by both England and France and the development of scientific Egyptology (embodied by the fictional Radcliffe Emerson and the very real Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, who defined a method of establishing archaeological chronology based upon changing pottery styles).

I don’t know if Elizabeth Peters intended to make this a long-running series (the second installment, The Curse of the Pharaohs, was not published until some six years had passed following the publication of Crocodile), but I’m certainly glad she did. The appearance of each new adventure of Emerson and Peabody (as they affectionately refer to each other) is sure to bring new delights to the readers of these fine mysteries.