My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The ninth book of the Amelia Peabody series, Seeing a Large Cat, is a significant turning point in the overall saga of the Emerson family. It’s the first of the internal quartet of books that follows the arc of the love story between Ramses and Nefret, and it’s also the first where Elizabeth Peters starts including the points of view of both Ramses and Nefret in the narrative. Up until this point she’d already been using the schtick of a hypothetical “Editor” who’s organizing the overall collection of the personal papers of Amelia and her family; with Seeing a Large Cat, this gets a bit more obvious treatment as all the sections from Ramses’ POV are from a hypothetical “Manuscript H”, while Nefret’s letters are from “Letter Collection C”. This worked nicely for me as a conceit, overall.
As for the story itself, it jumps ahead a few years from the previous book, The Hippopotamus Pool. Ramses, David, and Nefret are now firmly into their late teens, and the relationship between the three is solidly in place. If you’ve followed the series up until this point this may be a bit jarring, as the barest beginnings of Ramses and David’s deep friendship are in the previous book, and there’s not much on-camera mileage establishing the affection between Ramses and Nefret either, or Nefret and David. But that said, it’s not too difficult a point to get around, nor is it essential to the current story. You basically need to know going in that yeah, the three young people have become quite close in the intervening years; that much is essential, as it’s the relations between these three characters that drive much of the events not only in the aforementioned quartet, but really through much of the rest of the series in general.
With Ramses joining his mother as a viewpoint character, the flavor of the books does take on more dimension, and I really like that. While Amelia continues in her florid first-person style, all of Ramses’ sections are from a more impersonal third-person style, and do a good job of conveying that as a writer, Ramses has a significantly different way with a word than his mother. Also, speaking as a fan of just about everything Elizabeth Peters ever wrote, this is pretty much the only time I can think of ever that she’s written significant chunks of a storyline from a male point of view, and that’s a nice change of pace for her.
Of course, it helps that Ramses is an entirely swoonworthy character. As of this particular book it’s played a little thick, since he’s in a strange transitory age where I don’t quite buy that he can quite pull off everything he does. (Which is quite irrational, given that he’s pulled off this kind of thing pretty much since Book 3, and I oddly buy some of it better when he’s a kid than I do when he’s a teenager. Later on when he’s got more experience and maturity, I buy it better as well.)
You may be asking, but what about the plot? There’s some nice callback here to the events of Book 4, since a couple of the characters from there, Donald and Enid, make another appearance. This is simultaneously fun and frustrating, since Donald’s part in this plot sets him up to be spectacularly gullible. (Enough that you wonder whether the man suffered sunstroke in Egypt in the time since Book 4, or something.) But that’s the B plot; the A plot involves a Colonel Bellingham and his spoiled daughter, and a body found in a mysterious tomb that turns out to be none other than the mummified corpse of Bellingham’s dead wife. How precisely the wife came to be in such a state is the mystery the Emersons must solve this time around, and it’s an engaging story indeed.
One more thing that added colorful character detail to this one for me was the changeover in the Emerson cats. The family cats are a long-running worldbuilding detail all over the series, and here, the death of the first, Bastet (a.k.a. “the cat Bastet”), and the attempt of her offspring Sekhmet to win over Ramses is worth several “aww” moments all over the story. ‘Cause yeah, really, this story IS all about Ramses. Even for the cats. Four stars.