Friday, February 12, 2010

Book Review - Elizabeth Peters' The Curse of the Pharaohs

The Curse of the Pharaohs, Amelia Peabody Book 2 by Elizabeth Peters
Published by: Mysterious Press
Publication Date: 1981
Format: Paperback, 285 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Five years have passed since Emerson and Amelia were wed. Five years away from Egypt living dutifully in Kent raising their son Ramses. Five years amid the damp and the cold and the rain. It's not that they don't love their son's just that he can't really make up for the Egyptian sunrise or the thrill of a freshly unearthed mummy. For weeks the tabloids have been filled with the story of Lord Baskerville who died mysteriously while unearthing a new tomb in the Valley of the Kings, leaving an attractive widow, a second in command mysteriously scarpered and rumors of a curse. A story that Emerson and Amelia have eagerly read to vicariously live the life they've left behind. When one night, who should mysteriously appear on their doorstep but the bereaved widow herself, ostentatious weeds and all. She pleads with Emerson to return to Egypt and take up the tomb's Amelia points out, Ramses would be fine with Walter and Evelyn...for the winter...So off the two of them head to Egypt, parasol firmly in Amelia's hand. Upon their arrival there is the usual rigmarole with hiring the natives, working through governmental red tape and blasting away the rumors of a curse. But they didn't expect the press or such a cast of characters worthy of Agatha Christie herself.

In the villa overlooking Luxor and the Valley of the Kings an odd assortment of humanity has gathered. From the dregs of the previous expedition, Karl von Bork, a German archeologist, and the ailing Milverton, the photographer. Cyrus Vandergelt, an American millionaire and Egyptian enthusiast who covets the Baskerville Tomb and Lady Baskerville, who is also present. The fetching artist Mary with her delusional and often costumed and bewigged mother, Madame Berengeria. Not to mention various other servants from the superstitious to the oblivious. And a mysterious woman in white who wanders the plane. All caught in the keen eye and sharp pen of the journalist, Mr. O'Connell. But one person is conspicuously absent... Armadale... Lord Baskerville's second in command is still missing...which of course leads Amelia to assume, that despite evidence to the contrary, this man must have murdered his boss and took to the hills. But despite all the intrusions, from unwelcome houseguests to nosey reporters, the work must go on! And so it does till the first attack...and then the first murder...a servant who, the night before, claimed he saw the ghost of Armadale. The Emerson's think little of this, except in idle speculation, till even more attacks occur combined with more sightings of the woman in white. But what are a few murders and misdemeanors when a tomb has to be excavated before the looters get to it? Racing against the clock Amelia and Emerson have to sort out this mess and hopefully unearth a killer as well as a pristine mummy, preferably royalty.

I was uncertain if I'd like the second book in the series, because how many books can you successfully base around a curse and a tomb? Well...given how many books are in this series, the answer is several, but that doesn't mean they're all gems. Like mummies, you find the servants as well as the kings. But this book is definitively up there with the mighty pharaohs! I just devoured this book. It was very much in the vein of an Agatha Christie country house murder, only the house happened to be located in Egypt. Slowly secrets revealed until Poirot...I mean Emerson...gathered them in the drawing room to flush out a killer. There is also all the requisite Egyptological fun, but I find the cast of characters to be the true driving force of this mystery. A greater set of misfits there have never been. From the young men all pining after the put upon Mary, who has a few secrets herself. To the outspoken American, to the widow who had some sort of past with Emerson but is already on the prowl for her next mate. To the erstwhile Jimmy Olsen-esque reporter, who thought the idea of a curse would sell papers, and now he can't control the beast he's created. But my favorite character is Madame Berengeria. She believes in a past life she was Emerson's lover and that they should try to remember their past together, all while she dresses up as some Egyptian Queen. She is so fully realized and jumps off the page, you almost wish there was more of her...but that would almost be an impossibility!


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