Book Review: He Shall Thunder in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters

Posted February 2, 2022 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: He Shall Thunder 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.

He Shall Thunder in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters
Genres: Mystery, Amateur Sleuth, Historical
Published by William Morrow on October 13, 2009
Pages: 512
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, The Falcon at the Portal

Twelfth in the Amelia Peabody amateur sleuth historical mystery series and revolving around the archeologically minded and colorful Emersons. It’s the fall of 1914, set in Cairo, and World War I has broken out.

It’s been two years since The Falcon at the Portal, 11.

My Take

Ho, ho! Do be sure to read the prologue as it provides insight into Emerson’s childhood when his father died. Later, omigod, much later, more truth about Emerson’s childhood comes out. A real shocker!!!

Peters makes a good point about those useful occupations that provide a cover for spying. Social expectations come under fire, especially with regard to Ramses’ upbringing. Yes, children should not have independent thoughts, good heavens.

We learn this from Peters’ use of first person protagonist point-of-view from Peabody’s perspective, which does make her an unreliable narrator. The other perspective is from Ramses’ third person protagonist point-of-view, providing his side of events as well as his opinions on war and the Great Game.

With World War I on, the Emersons look mighty attractive to the British in Egypt. They have a reputation amongst the Egyptians for integrity, which the British want to use. That Emerson. He’s got quite the temper and flares up easily. He adores drama and desperately wants to work undercover, much too appealing to the British.

Oh, man. That Percy is such a crowing scum bucket. He’s manipulative and thinks nothing of betrayal. Wait’ll you read Ramses’ version of Percy’s kidnapping, lol.

The British fear an uprising in Cairo to throw off the British yoke and that the Nationalists will ally with the Germans. Who can blame them, really? No one wants to be subject to a foreign power, and it seems politicians will never learn this. No one wants their culture put down.

I do enjoy reading about Emerson’s driving — the type of thing that led to our need for so many traffic laws.

It’s a fascinating tale complete with action, adventure, ambushes, petty gossips, and betrayals.

The Story

The Emersons are back in Egypt with permission to dig at Giza. But it’s war, and fear runs throughout of spies, uprisings, and war with Germany over the Suez Canal.

Scorned for his pacifist statements, Ramses goes undercover to aid British intelligence with unexpected help.

The Characters

Amelia Peabody Emerson, a.k.a. Sitt Hakim (Lady Doctor) is an emancipated woman in her own right, and her husband, Professor Radcliffe Emerson, a.k.a. the Father of Curses, supports her completely, partly out of “fear”. Peabody (and Emerson agrees) that he is the greatest Egyptologist who has ever lived and will ever live. There’s no shyness here. (Emerson is asked to be the Adviser on Native Affairs.) Walter “Ramses” Emerson, a.k.a. the Brother of Demons, is their brilliant son, now engaged in spying for Britain.

The wealthy Dr Nefret Forth, a.k.a. Nur Musir (Light of Egypt), has been their unofficial ward and still lives with them, especially since the tragedy of her marriage to Geoffrey in The Falcon at the Portal. Narmer is the dog Nefret took in, in Cairo; she calls him a watchdog.

David Todros, Abdullah’s grandson and Selim and Fatima’s nephew, is a qualified artist and Egyptologist. He’s also Ramses’ best friend and blood brother who is married to Lia Emerson. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm for Egyptian independence sees him incarcerated in India. Sennia is Percy’s illegitimate daughter whom the Emersons have taken in. Seshat is one of the current cats (another of the cat Bastet’s offspring) with a decided preference for Ramses. The surly, spoiled Horus still adores Nefret but now prefers Sennia. Fatima is their housekeeper in Cairo. Jamal is the gardener and handyman (another relative of Selim’s). Reis Hassan is the captain of the Emersons’ dahabeeyah, the Amelia.

Walter, Emerson’s younger brother, a brilliant philologist, has been married to Evelyn, an excellent artist, for years. Their children include Raddie, Lia, and the twins, Willy and Johnny (he’s engaged to Alice Curtin), who have gone to war.

Captain Percival “Percy” Peabody, Ramses’ horror of a cousin (The Deeds of the Disturber, 5), and the suck-up has joined the Egyptian Arm and is on the General’s staff.

A wealthy American, Cyrus and Katherine “Cat” Vandergelt are the Emersons’ good friends working Abusir. Bertie, Cat’s son, was wounded at Mons. Anna is Cat’s unhappy daughter.


Cairo is . . .
. . . under martial law with censoring, forbidden gatherings, and the Khedive deposed. Shepheard’s is Peabody’s favorite hotel. Nefret’s clinic for fallen women in The Falcon at the Portal has evolved into a women’s hospital. Dr Sophia is in charge, although Nefret is the only surgeon. Some of the English-only clubs include the Turf Club where Cartwright and Jenkins join in with Simmons. Bassam’s is a favorite restaurant of the Emersons.

General Sir John Maxwell is in charge of Egypt and Commander of the Army. Kitchener was replaced by Sir Henry MacMahon, the new High Commissioner. Lord Edward Cecil, the Financial Adviser, is Simmons’ chief. Simmons is in Finance and another fire-eater. The young Lieutenant Pinckney hovers. Philippides is the head of the political CID. The corrupt Harvey Pasha, Philippieds’ superior, is under the command of the Cairo Police force. Thomas Russell, also under Harvey’s command, is the assistant commissioner of police with great respect for the Emersons. Gilbert Clayton heads up the new intelligence department as well as being the Cairo representative of the Sirdar of the Sudan with Newcombe, Lawrence (of Arabia??), and Leonard Woolley, who all did an archeological (and military) survey of the Sinai a few years ago, are under Clayton. As is the boastful, Aubrey Herbert, the once honorary attaché in Constantinople and a friend of Woolley’s and Lawrence’s. Dalip Singh is on the camel patrol.

Major Evan Hamilton is an engineer consulting on Canal defenses. The spoiled and impetuous Melinda “Molly” Hamilton is his precocious twelve-year-old niece. Miss Nordstrom is her governess.

M Maspero has retired from the Services des Antiquités, an organization which oversees archeological digs; his son, Jean had been wounded in France. His successor is fighting in France, leaving archeological sites, such as Zawaiet el ‘Aryan, vulnerable. Quibell is the highest ranking Egyptologist in Cairo and an old friend of the Emersons. Annie is Quibell’s talented artist wife. Reisner, an American, is still allowed to dig. Herr Professor Junker, a German, has been banned. Howard Carter is still in Luxor. Lord Carnarvon is Howard’s patron and has the firman for the Valley of Kings. (The incompetent Theodore Davis gave it up.) Karl von Bork, Rex Engelback, and Guy Brunton had enlisted. Petrie‘s staff still suffers from food poisoning. Clarence Fisher will work in the West Cemetery field.

Kamil el-Wardani is the leader of the Young Egypt Party and the only still-free Nationalist. His aides include Kamil, Farouk, the terrified Asad who sticks, Mukhtar, and Rashad. Nuri al-Sa’id and the scented sodomite el-Gharbi, who runs most of the whorehouses in Was’a (Kalaan had been a former rival and an ally in Percy’s plot about Sennia), are in sympathy although they’re more interested in profit. Musa is one of el-Gharbi’s servants. Aslimi Aziz, an antiquities dealer, runs the Khan el Khalili. He’s aided by Said al’Beitum. Mahira is the old woman who rents a room to Ramses.

Mrs Fortescue is a handsome widow who has the men of Cairo eating out of her hand. The Witherspoons provide her with a letter of introduction. Mrs Pettigrew is but one of the women who present Ramses with white feathers. Her husband is a jerk and in the Ministry of Public Works. Madame Villiers and Sylvia Gorst are nasty gossips. Mrs Fitz and Mrs Canley Tupper are part of Lord Edward’s set. Count de Sevigny is cutting a swath through Cairo. Mr and Mrs Poynter.

Abdullah had been their friend and brilliant reis (The Ape Who Guards the Balance, 10) whom Peabody meets with in dreams. His youngest son, Selim, is their current reis. Daoud, Abdullah’s nephew, is his second-in-command and married to the formidable Kadija. Ibrahim is their carpenter. One of the tombs belongs to Prince Sekhemankhor and his wife Hatnub. Sheikh Hassan is the chief of the guides here.

Sethos is the Master Criminal, a swindler who specializes in stealing Egyptian artifacts and is a master of disguise. Oddly enough, he keeps popping up to save Peabody. Hamza is Sethos’ servant.


General von Kressentstein is a brilliant military strategist and an adviser to the Syrian Army. Heinrich Fechter‘s father is a banker in Berlin. Von Überwald appears to be in charge of spies in Egypt. Sayyid Ahmad is with the Germans.


Jemal Pasha is in command of the Turks. Von Kressentein is his chief of staff. Sahin Bey is a legend in Syria and high in Enver Pasha‘s (the Ottoman War Minister) favor.


A Germany ally, Sherif el Senussi knows Percy.

Britain annexed Egypt, and with the Turks controlling Palestine, only the Sinai lay between the Suez Canal that was Britain’s lifeline to the east.

Helen McIntosh is the head of a girls’ school in England and a friend of Peabody’s. Bertha, Sethos’ mistress, had killed Abdullah (The Ape Who Guards the Balance, 10). Baedeker is the tourist Bible. Abu-Zayd, a.k.a. Barakat, is the subject of stories. Hakim the Seer of Mysteries, a.k.a. Alfred Jenkins, does a mind-reading stunt in London.

Emerson’s childhood
The fourteen-year-old Emerson is in the prologue. Emerson’s mother, a daughter of the Earl of Radcliffe, is a right old witch. Old Jenkins mans the gates. Thomas is the coachman. William had been the butler. Emerson’s upbringing certainly explains his views on schools.

The Cover and Title

The cover is grim with a grayish purple sky, lightning in the distance and a thin line of orange in the distant horizon. The orange-red jackal, in profile, represents the god Set, sitting in the rippled sand of the desert, a pair of stone columns with a lintel in the distance. The author’s name is at the very top in a combination of an embossed pale yellow and gray. Below the jackal, in brown, is the series info. The title is at the very bottom in white.

The title is from an Egyptian quote about Set, that He Shall Thunder in the Sky.

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