Book Review: The Falcon at the Portal by Elizabeth Peters

Posted February 14, 2022 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: The Falcon at the Portal by Elizabeth Peters

I received this book for free from my own shelves in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Falcon at the Portal by Elizabeth Peters
Genres: Suspense, Amateur Sleuth, British, Historical
Published by William Morrow on March 17, 2009
Pages: 464
Format: eBook
Source: my own shelves

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Also by this author: The Painted Queen, Crocodile on the Sandbank, The Curse of the Pharaohs, The Mummy Case, Lion in the Valley, The Deeds of the Disturber, The Last Camel Died at Noon, The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog, The Hippopotamus Pool, Seeing a Large Cat, The Ape Who Guards the Balance, Guardian of the Horizon, A River in the Sky, He Shall Thunder in the Sky

Eleventh in the Amelia Peabody historical amateur sleuth series of suspense and revolving around the stubborn yet caring Amelia Peabody Emerson and her family with this story set in the Egypt of 1911. It’s been five years since The Ape Who Guards the Balance, 10.

My Take

Well, Amelia’s life is never boring . . . and poor David and Ramses really come in for it this time. There are two villains running amuck when David’s life unknowingly goes topsy-turvy with the reader discovering how David has managed to complicate his life due to his own principles while Ramses finally achieves his life’s dream only to have it shatter with the advent of his daughter(?).

Peters uses both first person protagonist point-of-view from Amelia’s perspective and third person protagonist points-of-view from Ramses’ and Nefret’s perspectives. Nefret’s is mostly expressed through the letters she writes Lia.

Well, Percy has written a poor bit of fiction. Lord knows Nefret is having a good laugh over it. You will LYAO as you read Emerson’s assessment of why Ramses has to rescue Percy.

Every time I see Ramses’ name, I’m overcome with jealousy of his rapport and interest in any one of those around him. It also seems that Ramses has become a scholarly vagabond, only spending a few months of the year with his family. Anything to avoid Nefret.

Ramses also expresses his thoughts on the reformist Young Turks who replaced the Ottoman monarchy and descended into their enemies’ corruption.

Peabody has her opinion on the separate classes of women: those of the harem whom she compares to upper-class ladies and the fellahin class who have more rights than Englishwomen.

It’s a cozy, homey tale, typical of the series, with its quirks of why Amelia loves that Emerson calls her “Peabody”, that Selim is fascinated by the waltz and wants all his wives to learn it, Peabody’s secret little bottle, and that Peabody and Nefret ignore the social “rules” and go where they please — * love it!

Emerson has some intense negatives that add to the drama, including his belief in his own superiority as an archeologist. And with his temper, he manages to tick off everyone with any power to give him the digs he’d like. He does balance this with his acceptance of intelligent people, his love of drama and theatrics, and the fantastic tales told about him. Then there’s that well of love he has for Peabody, envisioning every man being in love with her. As for Sennia, it seems that Emerson does have his childish side, lol.

Speaking of tales, Peabody’s fairy tale translations have benefited from the sketches David contributed.

I love that David’s family came to England for the wedding and all the fun everyone had. Peters uses the series to blast the belief in European superiority that too many whites have. Even now.

Ooh, that Nefret can be sarcastic! Of which Peters makes good use to emphasize the difference in intellect between her and others. Nefret can also be impulsive, acting without thinking, and in The Falcon at the Portal, that impulsiveness is disastrous.

Carter certainly is paying his dues, as an artist and Egyptologist with no independent income. That Geoff is a sweetie, planting Peabody’s courtyard with all those flowers, trees, and vines. Then all the support he’s providing Jack after his tragedy . . .

There’s plenty of action, driven primarily by these characters with a fast pace through the ambushes, attacks, betrayals, all those men proposing to Nefret, and so much more.

As Abdullah alway said, “another year, another dead body”.

The Story

Representatives of David’s family have come to England for the wedding of David and Lia. A joyous occasion marred by rumors of forgeries being sold by David.

Meanwhile, Percy is in Egypt and complicating the Emersons’ lives and betraying Nefret, just as she’s feeling “like an exile who has finally come home”.

The Characters

Amelia Peabody Emerson, a.k.a. Sitt Hakim (Lady Doctor), is an opinionated suffragist who knows everything and cares for everyone. She’s married to Professor Radcliffe Emerson, a.k.a. Father of Curses, who is a brilliant archeologist to whom the knowledge is everything. Walter “Ramses” Emerson, a.k.a. Brother of Demons, is their equally brilliant son with a fascination for costumes, a facility with language, and a secret love for Nefret. David is Ramses’ best friend and blood brother.

Dr Nefret Forth, a.k.a. Nur Misur (Light of Egypt), is as a daughter to the Emersons — they’ve certainly imbued her with their beliefs (The Last Camel Died at Noon, 6). Lucky girl! Hathor, one of the cat Bastet’s descendants, has had another litter. Horus is their cat in Cairo.

At the Emersons’ English home, Amarna House, in Kent, Gargery is the interested butler, Rose is their housekeeper, Sarah is a new maid, and Bob and John are some of the footmen.

In Egypt, the Amelia is the Emersons’ dahabeeyah, captained by Reis Hassan.

Professor Walter Emerson is the younger brother, a brilliant scholar, is married to Evelyn, an excellent artist and the granddaughter of the Earl of Chalfont (I guess grandad got downgraded from duke). Chalfont Castle is their country home where the wedding is held. They informally adopted David Todros, Abdullah’s grandson and a brilliant artist and Egyptologist as well. Being Egyptian, David also espouses the cause of Egyptian independence. Lia is their daughter who is engaged to David. Raddie is their eldest and has graduated from Oxford. The comic Johnny and more serious Willy are the twins. Margaret is the younger sister.

Lieutenant Percival “Percy” Peabody is Amelia’s nephew and an absolute jerk who has joined the Egyptian army. James, a hypocritical, sanctimonious, mendacious cretin, is Amelia’s brother and Percy’s father both of whom we met in The Deeds of the Disturber, 5.

Egypt is . . .
. . . legally an Ottoman province but practically a British protectorate, a.k.a. the Veiled Protectorate. Kitchener has been appointed as consul general. Abd el-Quadir el-Gailani is one of the big men. Thomas Russell was head of the Alexandria police and is being transferred to Cairo as assistant commissioner with a warning about David. Harvey Pasha is the commissioner. Weigall is the inspector for Upper Egypt. Gordon is the American consul. Sir John Maxwell has influence with the Department of Antiquities.

Selim, Abdullah’s youngest son and David’s uncle, is the Emersons’ reis and has a passion for engineering. Daoud, the Beau Brummel of the family, is his second-in-command and one of David’s cousins. Kadija is Daoud’s formidable wife. Fatima, the Emersons’ housekeeper, is David’s aunt. Karima, Fatima’s niece, is not considered sensible by Fatima. Elia, one of Fatima’s stepdaughters, wants to be Nefret’s lady’s maid. Ahmed, one of Selim’s cousins, is the night watchman. Mohammed is in charge of the stables. Additional crew include Hassan, Daoud’s son, and Sayid. Basima will become the nursemaid. Many of Abdullah’s extended family live in Luxor or in the village of Atiyah and work for the Emersons.

Risha and Asfur are the thoroughbred Arabians gifted to Ramses and David by Sheikh Mohammed (Seeing a Large Cat, 9). Moonlight, Nefret’s horse, is one of their offspring.

Dr Sophia, a Syrian Christian whose expertise is in gynecology, is in charge of the clinic for women Nefret has established in Cairo. Nefret also rescues injured animals — birds, dogs, gazelles, etc. She names the dog Narmer. Dr Willoughby is a doctor and friend in Luxor.

Memphis is an ancient capital four hundred miles north of Cairo. Zawaiet el’Aryan has two pyramids and had been explored by Signor Barsanti, a conservator and restorer, in 1905. Mr and Mrs de Garis Davies are very good artists.

The wealthy Cyrus and Katherine “Cat” Vandergelt are friends of the Emersons from Egypt (Seeing a Large Cat, 9). Cyrus is fascinated by archeology. Bertie and Anna are Katherine’s children. Sekhmet had once belonged to the Emersons but preferred the lifestyle at the Castle. The Valley of the Kings is their dahabeeyah.

Reisner, an American archeologist, has a permanent expedition quarters, Harvard Camp. Some of Reisner’s people include Clarence Fisher who is his second-in-command, Jack Reynolds (the silly, clueless Maude Reynolds is his sister), Geoffrey Goodwin, Rex Engelbach, and Ernst Wallenstein.

M Maspero, the head of the Service des Antiquités, is holding on to Dashur. Other archeologists include Petrie (Hilda is his wife who hates Peabody) who is at Kafr Ammar with Lawrence, Howard Carter has a new patron in Lord Carnarvon, James and Annie Quibell — she’s copied reliefs in the past, and Theodore Davis who had had the concession for the Valley of Kings in Thebes. Karl von Bork‘s wife, Mary, is a good artist, although she is sick now (The Curse of the Pharaohs, 2). Von Bork is working for Professor Junker in the Western Cemetery. Signor Schiaparelli of the Turin Museum gave up the Italian concession.

The married Kevin O’Donnell is the star reporter for the Daily Yell and a sometimes friend of the Emersons. Esdaile is a dealer in antiquities. Aziz Aslimi runs his father’s, Abd el Atti, antiquities shop (The Mummy Case, 3). Shepheard’s Hotel is Peabody’s favorite and now owned by Mr Baehler. Freddy is the new manager. Friedrich is the head steward. Wardani is the Nationalist leader of the Young Egypt Party.

Sethos is the Master Criminal with a passion for Peabody. Ahmed Kalaan is a notorious pimp in Cairo. Rashida is one of his whores and the mother of Sennia.

Renfrew is a collector of artifacts, and he has unwelcome news. Frank Griffith is an Egyptologist. Walter Budge works for the British Museum as the Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities, usually purchasing illegal antiquities. Needless to say, Emerson hates him.

Hiram Applegarth is a dealer. M Dubois in Paris has some questions about his acquisitions.

Percy’s novel
Feisal is the eldest son of Sheikh Mohammed. His people have a blood feud with Zaal. Shakir is one of Zaal’s men.

Bouriant was convicted of selling forgeries. Curtis/Curtin is a classmate of Lia’s from Saint Hilda’s. Sir Arthur Evans, a distinguished archeologist, has invited David to restore frescoes in Crete. Denshawai was a disaster, a dark and shameful blot on the British. An incident that provoked the assassination of Boutros Ghali Pasha, the prime minister. Abd el Hamed had been David’s master back in The Hippopotamus Pool, 8.

Amelia’s enemies include Alberto, Matilda, and Riccetti (The Hippopotamus Pool). Alice Feamington-French and Sylvia Gorst are some of the gossipy girls in Cairo.

The Cover and Title

The background of the cover is a dull golden, an inscribed wall fills the top two-thirds with a stone floor below. There’s an opening in that wall descending deep inside the tomb, a carved red falcon standing next to it. Perhaps a metaphor for the Emersons’ descent into horror? At the top is an info blurb in white with a testimonial in black immediately below it. Below that is the author’s name in black shadowed in white. The title, in white, begins at the top of the falcon’s legs and descends almost to the bottom where the series info is located in yellow.

The title is a promise from Abdullah that the horrors of today will change when The Falcon at the Portal flies through into a better future.

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