Book Review: The Ape Who Guards the Balance by Elizabeth Peters

Posted January 21, 2022 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Review: The Ape Who Guards the Balance 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 Ape Who Guards the Balance by Elizabeth Peters
Genres: Mystery, Amateur Sleuth, Historical
Published by William Morrow on March 17, 2009
Pages: 400
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, Guardian of the Horizon, A River in the Sky, He Shall Thunder in the Sky, The Falcon at the Portal

Tenth in the Amelia Peabody amateur sleuth in an historical mystery series revolving around a feminist archeologist in 1906/7 Egypt.

In 1998, The Ape Who Guards the Balance was nominated for the Agatha Award for Best Novel.

My Take

Oh, man, talk about melodrama! And a false one at that, for Percy is writing tales of his bravery, roflmao.

The following sums up Peabody, lol . . .
“I am hoping to be thrown into the Black Maria and perhaps handcuffed.”
“Gargery remarked, ‘I’d like to see the chap who could do it.'”
“‘So would I,’ said my husband.”

How unexpected . . . a tale that complains about a government making promises and not fulfilling them. Yeah, sarcasm runs amuck.

Peters combines first person protagonist point-of-view from Peabody’s perspective as the primary POV and third person protagonist points-of-view from Ramses’ and Nefret’s perspectives, providing us with their sides of the story.

Emerson is a crack-up. Yes, he is brilliant in archeology and passionate about the knowledge rather than the grave goods, although he’s not averse to any objects that are found. He’s also renowned for the temper he claims he doesn’t have, lol. Yeah, I know Emerson can be a pain, but he is known for his honesty, and I cannot believe Davis’ actions!!!

Peabody is another great character with her knowing-all attitude, her description of her and Emerson’s nightly activities as well as how she manipulates everyone around her, and her holding forth on her “great” knowledge of psychology and yet missing some very obvious relationship issues. She despises in others what she herself does, and those familiar with her either laugh silently, roll their eyes, and accept.

Ramses, David, and Nefret are the three musketeers with Nefret insisting that what they can do, so can she. A little blackmail. I must say Ramses is my favorite character. Intelligent, charming, considerate with a passion for adventure, including disguises. He does follow his parents in acceptance of people no matter their nationality or social circumstances. As for his ability with language . . . I am so envious!

Sethos is another fabulous character, who also knows all. And usually does, lol. He has promised not to harm Amelia or any of her family, so that notice that gets into the paper apologizing was an absolute crack-up.

Ooh, Evelyn Emerson is growing in strength — Peabody notes that she has learned to stand up to both Emersons! I do like that Fatima! She’s determined to improve herself. And it gives Katherine an excellent idea! Do keep in mind that women are restricted in doing any number of things, and I loved it when both Nefret and Layla make a point about the hypocrisy of men when their rules force women into a very few occupations, and then punish them for it.

“I do not allow Miss forth to do a good many things, Sir Edward. She does them anyhow.”

I do love the relationships amongst the Emersons and with their friends in Egypt. They go their own way no matter how deplorable other Europeans find their fraternization with their Arab friends. Emerson’s attitude about other archeologists and his rambunctiousness and stubbornness to adhere to his standards does cause him some major problems with museum authorities.

Oh, boy. Oh. Boy. Lia has a confession to make, and Walter and Evelyn’s reaction to it certainly shows up their hypocrisy! As for Amelia’s reaction . . . hooey.

Oy! Ramses, David, and Nefret whine on about how their parents keep them in the dark to protect them. It’s a bit hypocritical, as Peabody and Emerson have no problem with plunging into action. Whoa, Ramses’ series arc picks up when he confesses his feelings and reasons to David.

It’s the usual fun and games of all those strong personalities pursuing mysteries, cursing archeological incompetence, and the complex human interactions…that Sir Edward..!

Don’t worry about the place names in Luxor. They are confusing, and I pay no attention to them. The real story is in the characters and their reactions and actions, as we’re exposed to family and friend interactions colored by Edwardian-era Egypt.

Better danger than boredom, as Peabody says.

The Story

The suffragettes’ rally in London was quite exciting, and that will have to suffice for Amelia Peabody when the Emersons head to Egypt, for the season promises to be quite dull. After all, Emerson’s behavior has found them banned from the more exciting digs to examining only the most boring tombs in the Valley of Kings.

But then a murdered body is found and Ramses and David acquire a copy of “The Book of the Dead”. An ominous premonition that leads to kidnappings and murders!

The Characters

Amelia Peabody Emerson, a.k.a. Sitt Hakim, is an insufferable woman with a heart of gold who knows all. Her most recent hobby is translating Egyptian fairy tales. She’s married to Professor Radcliffe Emerson, a.k.a. the Father of Curses (Abu Shitaim), who is passionate about knowledge through excavation. The hideously precocious Walter “Ramses“, a.k.a. Brother of Demons, is their nineteen-year-old son with an intense interest in philology. The twenty-one-year-old David Todros, Abdullah’s grandson, is his best friend and blood brother with great artistic talent. Nefret Forth, a.k.a. Nur Misur, is the teen they rescued in The Last Camel Died at Noon, 6; she is of age and in control of her fortune, studying medicine at the University of London and other places. The snarling Horus (who has adopted Nefret) is the only cat they bring with them to Egypt, for Anubis is getting old.

Their home, Amarna House, in Kent, England, is staffed by Gargery, their fascinated butler; Rose is the maid; and, Bob, Jerry, and John are footmen.

Professor Walter Emerson, an eminent philologist, is married to Evelyn who has a professional reputation for her own work (Crocodile on the Sandbank, 1), and their children include the seventeen-year-old Amelia, a.k.a. Melia or “Lia” wants to come to Egypt with her aunt and uncle. Chalfont House is their city mansion where Peabody and Emerson are always welcome to stay. Mrs Watson is the housekeeper. Chalfont Castle is their country estate in Yorkshire.

Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union along with her two daughters, Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst. Geoffrey Romer is a representative in the House of Commons and vehemently opposed to women’s rights. Mrs Markham is an old friend of Romer’s. Kevin O’Connell is a star reporter with the Daily Yell and sometimes a friend of the Emersons, if he’s not angling for a story.

Sir Reginald Arbuthnot is the assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard. Constables Jenkins, Murdle, and Skuggins are known to Ramses.

The Amelia is the Emersons’ dahabeeyah with Hassan as its reis. Fatima is Abdullah’s daughter-in-law, the widow of his son Feisal who had died last year. She’s determined to be independent and will take over the housekeeping of the dahabeeyah. She’s also continuing to take classes. Mohammed is part of the crew.

Cyrus Vandergelt is a wealthy American who is passionate about archeology and a great friend of the Emersons. He’s married to Katherine “Cat”, a former medium (Seeing a Large Cat, 9). She has two children, Bertie and Anna. The Valley of the Kings is his dahabeeyah. Sekhmet is now the Vandergelts’ cat; she prefers living at the Castle than with the Emersons, lol (Seeing a Large Cat). Queenie is Cyrus’ favorite horse. Willy Amherst had been Cyrus’ assistant in The Hippopotamus Pool, 8.

Ali the Rat is one of Ramses’ alter egos while Achmet is one of David’s. The Fish Market is infamous for the items for sale at all hours. Kyticas and Yussuf Mahmud, who is offering The Book of the Dead for sale, are dealers in illegal antiquities. Shepheard’s is Peabody’s favorite hotel and is owned by M. Baehler.

M. Maspero is the director of the Service des Anitquités, a department of the museum that controls Egyptian artifacts and deals out firmans. Arthur Weigall is the inspector for Upper Egypt and a wimp; Hortense is his wife. Part of a couple, Mr Smith is a painter and copyist staying with Weigall. Harold Jones is another painter. Archeologists of whom Emerson disapproves include Theodore Davis who has the concession in the Valley of Kings — and claims he’s found Queen Tiyi‘s tomb (the daughter of Yuya and Thuya, Tiyi had been the chief wife of Amenhotep III. Tiyi’s son had been Khuenaten, a.k.a. Akhenaton); Mrs Andrews is Davis’ cousin and accompanies him everywhere; Quibell had done the excavation for Davis until Edward “Ned” Ayrton took over; Naville; Mr Currelly; M. Lacau; and, the Reverend Mr Sayce. Mr Paul is a photographer Davis insists on using.

Those whom Emerson finds acceptable include Howard Carter, the American Reisner, and Mr Breasted of Chicago who is a linguist.

Thebes / Luxor
Abdullah ibn Hassan al Wahhab is their friend and reis of the excavation team. Selim is his youngest son; Daoud is his nephew (Kadija is Daoud’s strong wife whose green ointment we’re exposed to; Mustafa is their second son); Ibrahim is the carpenter; Hussein; and, Mohammed. Tetisheri is the goat Nefret rescued last year. Risha and Asfur are Ramses’ and David’s Arabians, gifts from Sheikh Mohammed (Seeing a Large Cat). The horses became parents last year, Moonlight, who will be Nefret’s. Raschid is the son of Abdullah’s cousin Mohammed. Sayid is the Emersons’ gatekeeper.

This is the first I’ve heard of the Foundation for the Exploration and Preservation of Egyptian Antiquities, funded by Nefret and with the family part of the board.

Sir Edward Washington shows up again, after six years (The Hippopotamus Pool, 8) when he had done photography for Emerson, and he is still interested in Nefret. This time, he has a small inheritance but wants to be of use.

Sethos is a Master Criminal specializing in Egyptian artifacts . . . and he’s in love with Peabody. Madame Bertha is/had been Sethos’ mistress as well as Vincey‘s (The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog, 7). Matilda is Bertha’s bodyguard and lieutenant. Gurnah is a village on the West Bank that is notorious for its tomb robbers, including the Abd er Rassuls. Abd el Hamed had been a brilliant forger who had taught David. Layla had been Hamed’s third wife and is back to prostitution. The House of Doves is a brothel. Mohassib is the most respected of the antiquities dealers. Ali Yussuf had originally been missing the first two joints of the third finger of his left hand.

Ramses read classics with Professor Wilson for a term at Oxford. That suck-up Percy and Violet Peabody are Ramses’ vicious cousins whom we met in The Deeds of the Disturber, 5. Some of Ramses’ girlfriends include Miss Verinder. Mrs Marija Stephenson loves cats, including her own Astrolabe. Madame Hashim provides classes for whoever is interested. Miss Buchanan is the head of the American School for Girls. Miss Whiteside of Boston is Buchanan’s companion; both are more interested in God than Emerson likes. Sayyida Amin is another teacher. Mrs Louisa Ferncliffe is a rude nouveau riche snob! Mustafa Karim has a daughter who can read and write. The Winter Palace is one of the hotels in Luxor.

The Cover and Title

The cover is red! It’s a red background with some texturing at the bottom to suggest eddies of sand. At the top are two irregular yellow triangles on either side with deep, deep red shadows providing a sense of depth for the pyramids. At the very top is an info blurb in white with the author’s name immediately below it, also in white. The remaining two-thirds of the cover include a dark pyramidal inset with the bronze statue of a baboon sitting on a tray-like scale on the left with a heart between his feet. On the right, is the title in the same bronze with black shadowing and black horizontal rules between each word. Below these is a testimonial in white.

The title references Thoth, the recorder of the deities, master of knowledge, and patron of scribes, who is frequently represented as a baboon or The Ape Who Guards the Balance.

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