Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
Back in my bookselling days, if we received a damaged book from the Publishers, rather than returning the whole book, we would have to send back the title page of the book. The title page is one of the pages at the front with details of the publisher, printer and ISBN. By removing this, it rendered the book unsaleable. For us booksellers, this meant lots lot of lovely, slightly damaged books that we had access to. As I'm sure you can imagine, we were like gannets when these were eventually placed in the staff room. Which is how I came to discover Elizabeth Peters. I expected something historical, serious, a worthy crime novel akin to Ellis Peters' Cadfael series. What I got instead was a hoot a minute novel with a strong female lead.
Elizabeth Peters is the pen name of Barbara Mertz who gained her PhD in Egyptology in 1952. She also happens to write very funny books including the Amelia Peabody set of books. Crocodile on the Sandbank is the first Amelia Peabody novel and I would definitely recommend starting with this.
Crocodile on the Sandbank was published in 1975 and is set in the 1880s. A quick note, the book does contain some slightly outdated attitudes of the time. Egyptology scholar Amelia Peabody, left a sizeable fortune by her father, travels abroad. In Rome she takes pity on Evelyn Forbes who has been left destitute following a failed romance. Amelia takes her under her wing and they travel to Egypt where they encounter the Emerson brothers - Radcliffe and Walter who are excavating a site of interest. Amelia has a very combative relationship with the elder Emerson brother, Radcliffe. While it is apparent that Walter is smitten with Evelyn.
But at the excavation site the team are disturbed by a living Mummy, moaning with his arms outstretched. Members of their crew begin to disappear. Could this have anything to do with the appearance of Evelyn's cousin Lucas who in the wake of Evelyn's scandalous relationship has inherited the family fortune, once promised to Evelyn? Are the crew really being terrorised by an ancient Mummy? And will Amelia ever find a split skirt that allows her to move freely?
I have adored reading these again and have at times found myself chuckling out loud to the consternation of my husband. Amelia is quite frankly brilliant. An ardent feminist, down-to-earth, sensible and unwilling to allow her gender to hold her back. She is formidable especially when armed with her beloved metal parasol which she often uses to whack somebody with. As Radcliffe remarks 'God help the poor Mummy who encounters you Peabody' he said bitterly 'We ought to supply it with a pistol to even the odds'
And indeed it is the verbal sparring with the elder Emerson brother that really makes this book. The plot feels slightly secondary to the novel, but enjoyable all the same. Instead we are left to enjoy Amelia's commentary and her relationship with Emerson. If you enjoyed the film 'The Mummy with Brendan Fraser then please do give this book a go. Just like 'The Mummy' It has a decent plot, but is made fun with the scripting, the wit and the chemistry between the characters.
So if you need a good laugh, full of pithy comebacks, dripping with sarcasm and just want to be entertained, then please do give this series a try. They are great fun.