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Book Log

Book Log #67: Seeing a Large Cat, by Elizabeth Peters

Seeing a Large Cat

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.

Book Log

Book Log #66: The Hippopotamus Pool, by Elizabeth Peters

The Hippopotamus Pool (An Amelia Peabody Mystery, #8)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Truth be told, it’d been so long since I’d read The Hippopotamus Pool, book 8 of the Amelia Peabodies, that I’d totally forgotten what it was about–and in particular, that it introduced the critical character of David Todros, grandson of Abdullah, the Emerson family’s reis. After recently re-reading it, I didn’t came away with much more than that either.

Which is not to say that things don’t happen in The Hippopotamus Pool, because they do. There is quite the upheaval in the underworld of Cairo following a Certain Event at the end of the previous book, and the Emersons must deal with two different antagonists. As with the previous story, there’s a tie-in with how the adventure at hand seems to tie in with the translation work on Egyptian myths Amelia’s doing; this time around, though, that particular plot device didn’t work for me as well as it did in Book 7.

On the whole, too, the plot just didn’t work for me as well. Even after recently re-reading it, I’m having a hard time thinking of things that stand out aside from the introduction of one other important character: Bertha, who is quite important in the next couple of books. So just to get the context on her as well as the introduction of David, you might make sure to include this book in a comprehensive read of the entire series. But if you’re looking for the high points, you could skip this one without too much trouble. Three stars.

Book Log

Book Log #65: The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog, by Elizabeth Peters

The Snake, the Crocodile and the Dog

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have frequently admitted that I am a sucker for an amnesia plot, that grand old staple of television series and of romance novels–and yeah, Elizabeth Peters has one, too. That would be The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog, Book 7 of the Amelia Peabodies, in which Emerson loses enough years off his memory to make him think he doesn’t have a wife. You can guess that this causes Amelia quite a great deal of consternation.

Really, though, this book is almost less about that than it is about Amelia and Emerson rekindling the romance of the early years of their relationship. Ramses and Nefret are not active in this plot, although periodic letters from Ramses threatening his imminent arrival in Egypt bring some Funny, and much of what drives the events in this story are the ramifications of news getting around about the Emersons finding Nefret. This clears the way for Amelia to focus exclusively on her husband and with the mystery at hand. And that’s not the only relationship getting explored, either, as there are quite a few twists involving a particular character I shall not name for fear of spoilers.

And I’ll say for Peters that her particular handling of an amnesia plot is at least slightly less goofy than many. Yeah, you have the obligatory nasty crack on the head, but that’s not all the abuse that Emerson takes at the hands of his captors; there’s enforced intake of opium as well. I could have done without the psychologist showing up later to spout assertions about how Emerson doesn’t really want to remember that he has a wife, but hey, it does fuel Amelia’s tension through most of the plot. Plus, there is a nicely understated resolution to it all.

This would not be an Amelia Peabody without the appearance of at least one memorable cat. In this case, it’s Anubis, the first male cat to join the Emerson family, and the comparisons between him and Bastet and how the Emersons’ workmen react to each animal add some amusing color to the proceedings. There is delightful character interactionb between Amelia and Abdullah. And, of course, there is excellent mileage with Sethos. But I’m not sayin’ where. Wouldn’t want to give a Master Criminal away, after all!

All in all a fairly self-contained story, not vital to the overall arc of the series, but fun nonetheless, and the adventure ties in nicely with the Egyptian tale that Amelia translates through the course of the novel. Five stars.

Book Log

So if you want to read the Amelia Peabodies

userinfoirysangel asked me about this, so I thought I’d do a longer post on the topic of which books in the Amelia Peabodies are more skippable than others if you want to read the series but are finding it slow going.

Book 1, Crocodile on the Sandbank. Not optional. After all, it’s how Amelia and Emerson meet. 😉

Book 2, The Curse of the Pharaohs, and Book 3, The Mummy Case – Fairly skippable. Ramses is still very young at this point and not as actively participating in the plots.

Book 4, Lion in the Valley – Not skippable just on the grounds that this one introduces Sethos, although be warned that the initial stretches of the book are pretty slow going.

Book 5, The Deeds of the Disturber – I have great love for this one as I mentioned in last night’s review post, but if I absolutely had to make the call, and you’re trying to condense your reading down to the most important books in the series, you could skip this one. But I’d encourage you not to!

Book 6, The Last Camel Died at Noon – Critical. Introduces Nefret.

Book 7, The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog – Skippable, despite the fact that it’s an amnesia plot and I’m a sucker for those. It’s a fairly self-contained story involving Amelia and Emerson, since Ramses and Nefret are left behind in England. Nice callbacks to the early days of their relationship, but you won’t miss anything major if you skip it.

Book 8, The Hippopotamus Pool – The main point of interest for this one is that this is the book that introduces the last major critical character to come into play, and that’s David. However, the plot is mostly skippable. I didn’t even remember it, or that it’s the one where David shows up, until my recent re-read.

Books 9-12, Seeing a Large Cat, The Ape Who Guards the Balance, The Falcon at the Portal, and He Shall Thunder in the Sky, form an internal quartet of sorts as they are the books that form the major arc of Ramses and Nefret. Strongly recommend that you do NOT skip any of these. They’re also the ones where Peters starts writing quite a bit of the story from Ramses’ point of view, as well as putting in occasional letters written from Nefret’s POV.

Be warned that Book 11, The Falcon at the Portal, has things in it that annoyed the hell out of me on my first read of the book and which still annoyed me on my recent re-read. Be warned also that the ebook version I read of this on my nook was very badly done; there were typos all over the place, missing words and broken formatting, and in several places the name Selim was read as Scum, and the word Sitt was shown as Sill. I’m seriously wondering if this ebook was put together as a bad OCR job.

That said, read it anyway (in non-ebook form unless there are better ebook versions than the one I have), as there is critical stuff in there that sets up the book that comes after, He Shall Thunder in the Sky, which more than made up for Falcon‘s transgressions. 😉 Note also that Book 12 has a Major Reveal involving Sethos as well, another reason that this book is arguably the high point of the series. Do not skip Book 12 under any circumstances!

After Book 12, though, things get fairly optional. (I have review posts to come for these.) It is important to note that two of the later books actually take place chronologically earlier in the series–and in fact fall right between The Ape Who Guards the Balance and The Falcon at the Portal. These are Book 16, Guardian of the Horizon, and the most recent one, Book 19, A River in the Sky. In my opinion both of these are fairly skippable since they’re just going in and filling in missing time, and don’t really bring anything new to the overall saga of the Emersons.

I’ve only read books 13, 14, 15, 17, and 18 one time each and barely remember anything about them, aside from how you get new child characters that come in as the next generation of the Emersons. Books 13-15 were solid enough as I recall, and I remember being charmed by book 15. However, it was round about book 17 that I found that Peters’ writing was starting to feel pretty perfunctory, without the same vivacity and spark that her earlier works had shown. (This may just be a matter of Peters’ age; she’s in her 80’s now and she showed the same problem with Book 6 of the Vicky Bliss series too.)

So if you’re in the mood to keep going after Book 12, Books 13-15 I think go more into depth with Ramses doing intelligence work during World War I, and Book 15 is a good stopping point for that. But 17 and 18 were both fairly skippable.

Any questions? 🙂

Book Log

Book Log #64: The Last Camel Died at Noon, by Elizabeth Peters

The Last Camel Died at Noon (Amelia Peabody, #6)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You really need to point at Book 6 of the Amelia Peabodies, The Last Camel Died at Noon, as one of the pivotal books of the series–because it’s here that arguably the most important character in the entire cast (aside from, of course, the Emersons themselves) is introduced. The Last Camel Died at Noon is the book that introduces Nefret, and it’s the tale of how the Emersons discover and rescue her from a lost civilization deep in the Sudan.

It’s this book as well where Peters starts throwing around references to H. Rider Haggard, and in particular, King Solomon’s Mines. Amelia harks back a lot to Haggard’s writing as she tells the reader all about what proves to be one of the Emersons’ most exotic adventures ever. Word comes to them that the explorer Willoughby Forth, long presumed to have been lost in the desert along with his young wife, may not actually have died–and that, moreover, the lost oasis they were seeking might actually exist. The Emersons are begged by Forth’s father and cousin to go in search of proof of his eventual fate; the Emersons being who they are, they agree. But the journey is deeply perilous, and after the deaths of their camels, abandonment by their men, and the threat of illness and thirst and heatstroke, they are rescued by the people of the very civilization Forth had set out to locate.

What happens when they get there–and how Nefret comes into it–I won’t say because that’d be hugely spoilerrific. Suffice to say that there is political and social intrigue, treachery from several quarters, and Amelia getting the biggest shock of her life when Ramses encounters someone who can actually make him shut up. Five stars.

Book Log

Book Log #63: The Deeds of the Disturber, by Elizabeth Peters

The Deeds of the Disturber (Amelia Peabody, #5)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a series that’s famous for being primarily set in Egypt, The Deeds of the Disturber, Book 5 of the Amelia Peabodies, is quite distinctive in that it’s set in England during the off-season, when the Emerson family is between digs. It also has the good fortune of being my very favorite book involving Ramses as a child. Sure, that boy’s formidable even in Books 3 and 4, but here, put up against the odious Percy and Violet, the children of Amelia’s brother James, Ramses gets his first real stretch of character development.

You’d think that the Emersons being at home means they’d get a break from their detectival adventures, but you’d be wrong. There’s a new exhibit with a mummy at the British Museum, and of course there are Mysterious Persons showing up in ancient Egyptian garb causing disturbances at the exhibit. Worse yet, people have started to die at the museum, and rumors are beginning to fly about a curse. Cue the Emersons, even though Emerson himself is frantically trying to finish a manuscript. And even though Amelia has to juggle managing not only her husband and son, but also her niece and nephew, who have been unceremoniously thrust upon her by her brother. The redoubtable Amelia is hopeful that exposure to other children, “normal” children, might be good for Ramses–but it should surprise no reader of the series that things go very, very badly. Fights break out, accusations are hurled, and as is so often the case with young Master Ramses, things wind up on fire.

The Young Lovers Du Jour are a refreshing change of pace–none other than Kevin O’Connell, the Emersons’ simultaneously most liked and most hated reporter, and his rival, Miss Minton, who’ll stop at nothing to scoop him on the story of the curse at the museum. And it’s fun to see characters here that we don’t normally get to see in an Amelia Peabody novel, such as the Emersons’ England-based servants, all of whom take an inordinate amount of interest in the family affairs (Gargery, the butler, is Awesome). Emerson gets his obligatory Scenes of Being Heroically Wounded, not once but twice even, and there is even a mysterious woman from his past cropping up and giving Amelia cause for Grave Concern. Coming as we are off of Book 4, this is fun tension, given that the tables are now turned and Amelia has to have her own battles with doubt.

But really, read this for the excellent Ramses mileage! And keep an eye on that kid Percy, because we will be seeing him again! Five stars.

Book Log

Book Log #62: Lion in the Valley, by Elizabeth Peters

Lion in the Valley (Amelia Peabody, #4)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you pick and choose only a selection of the Amelia Peabody books to read, one of your choices must indisputably be Lion in the Valley, book 4 of the series. This introduces one of the most critical recurring characters to show up all throughout the books: as Amelia herself likes to call him, that genius of crime, the Master Criminal, Sethos.

Thanks to events of the previous book, The Mummy Case, Emerson has secured permission to dig at the Black Pyramid in Dahshur. But as is always the case with the Emersons, their efforts are soon enough interrupted. Someone attempts to kidnap Ramses–and the man who helps rescue him proves to be an opium-addicted Englishman. Moreover, there’s a young woman on the run from an accusation of murder, and anyone who’s read any other book of the series should be able to quickly guess that there’s backstory with these two side characters, too.

But really, the main interest of this installment is Sethos, particularly when his romantic interest in Amelia comes to light. Look for the big ending, when the Master Criminal gets his shot at his main goal. Which is to say, Amelia herself. This’ll set up a lot of lovely interaction for later installments, as well as occasional fun tension between Amelia and Emerson. Also, Sethos himself is a fabulous anti-hero, sure to appeal to any fan of rakish thieves and gentleman rogues. Four stars.