Book Review: Seeing a Large Cat by Elizabeth Peters

Posted January 19, 2022 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Review: Seeing a Large Cat 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.

Seeing a Large Cat by Elizabeth Peters
Genres: Mystery, Amateur Sleuth, Historical
Published by Grand Central Publishing on November 11, 2009
Pages: 435
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, The Ape Who Guards the Balance, Guardian of the Horizon, A River in the Sky, He Shall Thunder in the Sky, The Falcon at the Portal

Ninth in the Amelia Peabody amateur sleuth in an historical mystery series revolving around a feminist archeologist in Egypt. This tale is set in 1903 in Thebes with the Emersons in the center of the action.

In 1997, Seeing a Large Cat was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Novel.

My Take

I do enjoy it when an author blends history with their fiction. It’s even better when mixed with a bit of snark, lol.

Self-important busybody that she is, Amelia is so refreshing and has experienced quite a bit for her 1903 time period. It’s been three years since our last encounter with the Emersons and David and Ramses have experienced quite a bit . . . quite. A. Bit.

It’s a contradiction. Part of me is frustrated with what a know-it-all Peabody is and the greater part of me adores her. I also love the reputation Emerson (and his family) has in Egypt and their embracement of the Egyptians. It’s a great attitude which leads to hilarious scenes of mayhem that freak out the “norms”, as Peters explores bigotry and the superior attitudes of whites and the wealthy. Another crack-up, as the Emersons are independently wealthy, beholden to no one.

Amelia Peabody cracks me up—an original suffragette. She is opinionated, stubborn, self-righteous, melodramatic, pompous, and an interfering know-it-all who is also honest, loyal, open-minded, tolerant, caring, and good-hearted with the most amusing, full-of-life husband. Aware of her character, her family and friends are in turn open-minded and tolerant of her “little ways”. And it’s so much fun to read the banter between them all as they solve yet another series of crimes while excavating in early 20th-century Egypt for yet another season.

Peters introduces a secondary POV (third person protagonist) from Ramses’ perspective while continuing first person protagonist point-of-view from Peabody’s perspective. It can be a bit disconcerting (Peters is careful to let us know ahead of time when she’s changing from one to the other) to read Ramses’ side of the story.

Ramses’ series arc is of growth, naturally, and it is interesting to see how he changes. Oh, not all of him, but he is becoming less loquacious and more walled-off emotionally. And so determined to earn Nefret’s love. Nefret’s arc is less of a contrast, although she does provide more counterpoint to European/American social rules.

“I must make sure the men finish sweeping the desert, Sitt,” [Abdullah] said. “How far from the house should they go?”

I do adore Peabody’s and Abdullah’s differing attitudes to cleanliness, lol.

They are an eclectic religious mix with David’s parents a Copt and a Muslim, Nefret a former priestess of Isis, Emerson despising all religions, Peabody adhering to the CofE, and Ramses knowing more about the Koran than the Bible.

I do agree with Peabody’s assessment that “formal observances are less important than what is in the heart.”

The whole medium shtick has quite the twist, in so many ways!

Technology has its own arc in the series, as Peters keeps us abreast of innovations. Academically, I do appreciate Emerson’s passion for knowledge as opposed to immediate spectacular finds, although he does revel in being dramatic, lol.

The Story

It’s confrontation after confrontation with a Southern belle in pursuit of Ramses and an old friend begging help from the Emersons — a medium is taking the Debenhams for a fortune!

And yet another dead body . . . of an eight-year-old murder.

The Characters

Amelia Peabody Emerson, a.k.a. Sitt Hakim (Lady Doctor), is a force to be reckoned with along with her highly respected yet infamous husband, Professor Radcliffe Emerson, a.k.a. the Father of Curses (Abu Shita’im). Walter “Ramses“, their fifteen-year-old son who is known as the Brother of Demons (Akhu el-Afareet), has spent the past six months with Sheikh Mohammed learning to ride, shoot, and um, become a man. Accompanying him is David Todros (The Hippopotamus Pool, 8), Ramses’ best friend and blood brother and an expert forger, who has been virtually adopted by Walter (Emerson’s younger brother) and Evelyn (an artist) Emerson, who have four children: Raddie is their oldest (he’s gone up to Oxford), Johnny and Davie?? (I thought it was Willy?) are the twins, and the fourteen-year-old Amelia, who is their oldest girl. The seventeen-year-old David is also Abdullah’s grandson. Nefret Forth, the young teen rescued in The Last Camel Died at Noon, 6, a.k.a. Nur Misur (Light of Egypt), has been pursuing a education in medicine. The cat Bastet, Ramses’ prolific and constant companion, is no more. Anubis, the Egyptian cat who adopted Emerson in The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog, 7, is still with them. Sekhmet is of Bastet and Anubis’ last litter. Risha and Asfur are the Arabians gifted to the boys by the Sheikh.

The Emersons’ people in Egypt include Abdullah, their experienced reis (foreman) and friend; Daoud, who is Abdullah’s nephew and second-in-command; Selim is his youngest (and married) son (and David’s uncle); Yussuf; Ibrahim, who is a carpenter; Mahmud; Mustafa; Hassan; and, Ali. Fatima is David’s aunt. The Amelia is the Emersons’ dahabeeya, captained by Hassam.

Cyrus Vandergelt, a wealthy American and another of the Emersons’ best friends, is also enamored of archeology. He built a home, a.k.a. the Castle, near the entrance to the Valley of Kings. Queenie is his favorite horse. The Valley of the Kings is Cyrus’ dahabeeyah.

M. Maspero is the director of the Service des Antiquités. (Auguste Mariette had founded the Service.) Howard Carter is the inspector over the antiquities of Upper Egypt; Quibell is in charge of Lower Egypt. Reisner is an American excavator. Lucas is a chemist; M. Lacau is copying coffin texts. Other, unrespected, archeologists include the ignorant Theodore Davis who treats the field as a playground with the Bedawin as his dahabeeya; Carter is working for Davis this season; Loret is a former director; Herr Emile Brugsch is Maspero’s assistant; Naville; Percy Newberry; M. Legrain; de Peyster Tytus; and, Wilkinson (later Sir Gardiner) who had numbered tombs eighty years ago. The hated Wallis Budge is the keeper of Egyptian antiquities (that he acquires illegally) at the British Museum. Lord Cromer, the former Sir Evelyn Baring, is the British Consul General and another old friend.

Others who are unwelcome include Monsieur le Comte de la Roche. Ali Murad, a Turk, is the American consular agent. Gordon is with the consulate.

Shepheard’s Hotel is Peabody’s Cairene domicile of choice. The Continental is a newer hotel.

The rude and spoiled Dolly Bellingham is chaperoned by the latest, Mrs Maplethorpe. Her imperious father, Colonel Bellingham, is far too indulgent. His fourth wife, Lucinda, eloped with Dutton Scudder, the colonel’s secretary. Mohammed is a servant of the Howadji (the colonel) replaced by Saiyid, an incompetent and cowardly dragoman. Booghis Tucker Tollington and Sir Arthur are Dolly’s most recent escorts.

Thebes / Luxor
The Emersons built a house there. Mrs Enid Fraser née Debenham (Lion in the Valley, 4) is frantic with worry about her husband Donald. Tasherit is an Egyptian princess communicating with Donald through the aid of Mrs Katherine Whitney-Jones, a desk Egyptologist and medium. She has two children: Bertie and Anna.

Ahmed Giirigar is the well-regarded reis in charge of the gaffirs, the watchmen of the Valley of Kings. Dr Willoughby was a great help in The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog. Mrs Andrews is amiable. Mustafa Kamel has some fascinating jewelry. Pagnon is the manager of the hotel.

Sethos, the Master Criminal and the Emersons’ arch-enemy, is dead. Residents of the village of Gurneh are renowned tomb robbers; the Abd er Rassul family is notorious.

Tetisheri was the queen in the tomb at Drah Abu’l Naga from The Hippopotamus Pool. Hatshesput, a female pharaoh, ruled for twenty years. Dr Aldrich-Black lectures on medicine. Mr Cook runs tours through Egypt. Worth had been a famous courtier; one of his dresses had been worn by Lady Burton-Leigh. The Honorable Mr Dillinghurst, Lord Sinclair, the Comte de la Chiffonier, etc., have also been interested in Nefret. Alan Armadale (The Curse of the Pharaohs, 2) had been the original owner of the cat Bastet.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a narrow range of blues and a wider one of oranges with a gradated sky of deep blue to a dusty periwinkle, narrow brown clouds drifting over a landscape of murky oranges. In the forefront is a large statue of an upright cat. At the very top is an info blurb in white with the author’s name below it in an embossed gold. Immediately below it, the brighter orange tip intruding between the “P” and the “E”, is a turquoise pyramid with the series info in white. At the statue’s waist is the title in white with a testimonial, also in white, below that at the bottom.

The title refers to Peabody’s dream, when she was Seeing a Large Cat.

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