Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Book Review Redux - Elizabeth Peters' Crocodile on the Sandbank

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
Published by: Grand Central
Publication Date: 1975
Format: Paperback, 262 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Crocodile on the Sandbank is the first in the beloved Amelia Peabody series. Literally for years every author I love and whose opinions I respect, from Charlaine Harris to Lauren Willig to Colleen Gleason to R.L. LaFevers, have said that these books are dear to their hearts. With so much to recommend it, along with the fact I love Egypt you'd think I'd have picked the series up sooner. Well you'd think that, but sometimes when everyone's on the bandwagon, I like to be over to the side, thinking, I'm sure I won't like it, the covers are so tacky, I'm sure everyone is wrong. Well those days of doubt are over. I love Amelia Peabody! While everyone says, it's basically a female Indiana Jones, I find the writing style is more reminiscent of Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone or The Woman in White, so moody and Victorian.

The book starts with our erstwhile heroine, Amelia, inheriting her fathers estate, which turned out to be quite significant. She's a no-nonsense, parasol wielding, intelligent woman of 32, which makes her think of herself as a spinster. She decides to embark on a grand voyage to see all that she and her father read about in books. From Rome to Egypt, she wants to see it all. She hires herself a companion, one who's a little frail because she likes to mother people, only to have her frailty leave Amelia sans companion by the time she's in Rome. She literally stumbles upon Evelyn, a once wealthy and beautiful girl brought to the verge of suicide by running away with an Italian drawing instructor. Well Amelia doesn't give a fig about the "ruined" label and takes Evelyn on as her companion as they travel to Egypt.

Once in Egypt they encounter the Emerson brothers. The sweet Walter and the gruff yet suspiciously Darcy-esque Radcliffe who are planning on excavating at Amarna on the banks of the Nile. Evelyn and Walter fall instantly and madly in love, though Evelyn vows to never burden Walter by marrying him, due to her despoiling. Before Amelia and Evelyn leave Cairo, Evelyn's cousin, Lucas, arrives to tell her of their Grandfather's death due to the shock of Evelyn leaving. Lucas declares that though he inherited the family fortune because of Evelyn's fall from grace, he would love her to become his wife and share the fortune that should have rightfully been hers. She rejects him but he vows to follow them down the Nile and convince her.

Amelia and Evelyn's journey down the Nile is brought to an abrupt halt when they reach Amarna. Walter meets them and tells them Emerson is deathly sick. Amelia, medical kit in hand saves his life and then saves his archeological discoveries. While Emerson convalesces Amelia is having the time of her life playing at archeologist and Evelyn is having the time of her life with Walter. But strange things start to happen when a mummy is discovered. First it disappears, then the hired locals desert the site saying it's cursed. Finally the mummy starts nighttime perambulations. But this spectre couldn't possibly be supernatural? Could it? And what does it want? Are they to abandon the dig site because it is possessive of it? Or does the mummy really want Evelyn? The strange happenings keep on coming, even after the arrival of Lucas. But despite injury and terror everything works out in the end for our protagonists.

While the plot was predictable to a certain extent and I was able to figure out what was happening long before the characters, this was by no means a flaw. The book is written in such an interesting first person narrative that despite being sure I knew what was going on I was still gripped to the edge of my seat. I found that Evelyn maybe fainted one too many times, but the women are by no means weak, especially if Amelia's parasol is nearby! (This has to be where Lady Gwen gets her parasol in Lauren Willig's books.) I also found it very helpful that I had studied Art History because I knew all about the dig at Amarna and the ruler who believed in the one true God, the Sun. Who knew that I could find such enjoyable entertainment from Ancient to Renaissance Art classes? I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves Egyptology, even if your interest has only been The Mummy movies so far!

*Reposted to coincide with February's Desert Sands Month


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