Book Review: A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters

Posted January 26, 2022 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: A River in the Sky 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.

A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters
Genres: Mystery, Amateur Sleuth, Historical
Published by William Morrow on March 19, 2010
Pages: 323
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, He Shall Thunder in the Sky, The Falcon at the Portal

An in-between story, 10.75, in the Amelia Peabody amateur sleuth historical mystery series (19 in publication order) and revolving around the Emersons heading to Jerusalem while Ramses is in Samaria. It’s 1910 and two years since Guardian of the Horizon, 10.5.

My Take

I was disappointed with this one; it felt as though Peters had to get a novel out to fulfill a contract, and so she ran this one up. To be honest, if you skip this one, you won’t be missing anything.

It is an interesting start noting that no one in the Emerson household adheres to the same religion and then it leads into Emerson pooh-poohing the stories in the Bible. I do have to agree with him, as the first stories in the New Testament were written down some 100 years after Jesus died. It’s like the Conversation game where the sentence changes with every person to whom it’s told. Peabody does note where some of the stories are based on historical facts. So there.

Hmm, Peabody does have moments of reality, especially when she considers that Ramses may have deliberately chosen a place where she can’t get to him, lol. It does crack me up that everyone is afraid of Emerson, but everyone is terrified of Peabody, lol. Even the DMO!

There are times I feel the need of a map with all these archeological locations; I do enjoy the history behind these. Panagopolous believes he is the reincarnation of a number of historic people and has a story to go with each one. Fascinating AND disruptive.

I do love Emerson. He has no tact, is rude, and doesn’t pretend an interest in anything or anyone who doesn’t directly relate to his interests.

It’s primarily first person protagonist point-of-view from Peabody’s perspective, so most of the story is told through her eyes. Peters has included a third person protagonist point-of-view from Ramses’ perspective — he’s been off on his own, excavating, so this gives us his side of the story.

An underlying theme throughout the series has been a call for independence for the Middle East.

The Emersons do have a rude awakening in Jerusalem when they realize they have to negotiate with landowners to conduct a dig. Peabody does her usual setting up of a household.

A River in the Sky is a convoluted tale of spies filled with strong characters who challenge our polite perceptions of society and overwhelmed with kidnappings, attacks, close escapes, and betrayals.

The reveals at the end are fascinating and such small bits to influence all the previous actions. Phew.

The Story

Emerson has still not decided where he intends to dig. Until, that is, the War Department makes a request.

This year will see the Emersons heading to Jerusalem, intending to prevent a war and a catastrophically unprofessional excavation from destroying priceless historical finds and sparking an armed protest by infuriated Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

Meanwhile, Amelia’s headstrong son, Ramses, working on a dig at Samaria, encounters an unusual party of travelers and makes a startling discovery — information that he must pass along to his parents in Jerusalem…if he can get there alive.

The Characters

The Emersons are noted for their contact with murderers, forgers, robbers, and a Master Criminal. Professor Radcliffe Emerson, a very focused archeologist, is also known as the Father of Curses . . . it’s that temper of his. Amelia Peabody Emerson, a.k.a. the Sitt Hakim (Lady Doctor), is quite the suffragette who rules the roost. Dr Nefret Forth, their adopted daughter, who is known throughout Egypt as Nur Misur (the Light of Egypt), has been handy with a knife since the Lost Oasis. David Todros, Selim’s and Fatima’s nephew and a brilliant artist, is engaged to Lia Emerson, Walter and Evelyn’s daughter. Walter “Ramses” Emerson, their son, a.k.a. the Brother of Demons, has a gift for languages, is trying to distance himself from Nefret. Do note that Ramses has a penchant for getting into trouble . . . and getting himself out again.

Walter, Emerson’s younger brother, and Evelyn have several children. Lia is but one with the others including Raddie, the oldest son, and the twins, Willy and Johnny.

Kent, England
Amarna House is the Emersons’ country home. There is a Cushite-style pyramid in the backyard marking Tabirka‘s burial place. Rose is their very efficient housekeeper, Gargery is the butler, and John is the dependable footman. Horus, a brindled cat who is a descendant of the cat Bastet, has adopted Nefret and hates everyone else, except kittens. Fatima is their cook/housekeeper in Luxor, Egypt.

George Goodbody is the local constable in Camberwell St Anne’s Underhill. Mariah is George’s wife. Dr Membrane is the local physician, more interested in if the patient can pay. Mrs Finney is the proprietress of the White Boar, a tavern and inn. Her cousin drives the local ambulance, a hay wagon.

England
King Edward now rules in England. General David Spencer is the DMO (the Directory of Military Operations) at the War Office. MO2 is the branch assigned to cover Europe and the Ottoman Empire. George Tushingham is a botanist.

Jerusalem is . . .
. . . overseen by Azmi Bey Pasha as governor for the Ottoman Empire. Bey Jarah, a.k.a. Ali Bey, is the commandant of the Turkish gendarmerie and acknowledges the Emersons’ reputation for apprehending miscreants.

Major the Honorable George Morley, a treasure hunter, believes the Ark of the Covenant has been found. He’ll need professional supervision. The Reverend Plato Panagopolous, a dreamer and part of the lunatic fringe of biblical scholarship, is not associated with any particular religion. Abdul Mohammed visits with Madame von Eine. The snooty Rabbi Ben Yeshuda disdains the Emersons’ help.

Mr Fazah is the assistant manager of a hotel. Furman Ward is with the American Palestine Organization. Samuel Page is with the British Society for the Exploration of Palestine. Courtney Camden, who has knowledge of pottery, wishes to be hired by Emerson. Edmund Glazebrook is the British consul, who expelled Herbert Jenkins for swindling.

A part of Jerusalem is the village of Silwan where the Emersons intend to set up shop. Robinson, a British engineer, found a tunnel there. Selim is the Emersons’ reis (foreman) which he inherited from his father, Abdullah. The huge and straightforward Daoud is/had been Abdullah’s nephew and second-in-command. Abdul Kamir is an old friend of Emerson’s. That man does get around! Yumma will become the cook. Ghada has an illegitimate child and does laundry. Safika is the housemaid.

Sethos is the Master Criminal, who usually shows up to save the day. Warren and Bliss had led previous excavations near the Temple Mount. Tal’at-ed-dam, a.k.a. Hill of Blood, is a handy ruin of a Crusader castle. Mr Boniface is the manager of the Temperance Hotel in Jaffa.

Sebaste, Samaria, is . . .
. . . a dig (with John the Baptist’s tomb and a city built by Herod are the chief attractions) being led by Reisner, an American archeologist whom Emerson doesn’t hate. Clarence Fisher is Reisner’s second-in-command. Ramses is working here and under mysterious attacks. The excavation team includes the questioning Mitab and Yusuf who was one of the culprits.

The sloppy Schumacher had previously been in charge of the Samarian dig. Abdul Hamid intends to drive Ramses out of Samaria.

Ramses first encounters the insulting Madame von Eine, a specialist in Hittite remains. Ostensibly she worked for Winckler at the Boghazkoy dig. Mansur is her fellow traveler. Macomber had been one of Ramses’ fellow students at Oxford; now he’s part of von Eine’s expedition.

The Sons of Abraham were . . .
. . . Isaac and Ishmael and is now an organization of Christians and Muslims who believe they are all brothers. Majida is a madame. Rabbi Ben Ezra is the helpful one.

Irag
Gertrude Bell, an interfering British traveler, is hated by the Iraqis.

The Ottoman Empire is . . .
. . . failing with the sultan only in power through the support of France and Britain who want to keep Germany (Kaiser Wilhelm II rules) and Russia out. Palestine and Syria are provinces.

A tell is the remains of one settlement atop another. Shapira and Parker were other treasure hunters. Carcemish is a British concession. Jesus is known as Issa by Muslims and considered a venerated prophet.

The Cover and Title

The cover is mostly burgundy with a deep colored sky, a bolt of lightning striking the on the left side of the golden domed six-sided temple. The walls of the temple are a light blue on the top and sand-colored on the bottom. At the top is an info blurb in white. The author’s name is an embossed gold. To the right of the temple is a round, golden badge with a bit of advertising in black. Below the temple, sitting on a gradated reddish pink to burgundy ground is the title in white with a black outline. Below that, at the very bottom, is the series info in yellow.

The title is what a pharaoh had called the frequent rainfall of Palestine, A River in the Sky, a Nile in the sky provided by a thoughtful god.

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