Book Review: The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters

Posted November 10, 2021 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: The Curse of the Pharaohs 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 Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters
Genres: Mystery, Amateur Sleuth, Historical
Published by Mysterious Press on March 1, 2010
Pages: 307
Format: eBook
Source: my own shelves

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Also by this author: The Painted Queen, Crocodile on the Sandbank, 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, The Falcon at the Portal

Second in the Amelia Peabody historical amateur mystery series and revolving around a late Victorian woman who was emancipated long before the rest of us. The couple focus is on Amelia and Emerson, five years married.

My Take

Whew, I was worried with that first paragraph. It was so un-Amelia! Then we get farther in to Amelia’s take on her new son, who “had not been around long enough to make much of an impression”. Referring to the baby as “it”.

I do love Peters’ descriptions of Ramses, a baby, mind you, with his “cold-blooded calculation”, the terror he caused his cousins, and Emerson’s besottedness. He is a bright boy with quite the advanced sense of reasoning. Ask the cook! Oh, lordy, that tea party . . . and Ramses’ descent on it. Oh yes, lolololol. Then, of course, Emerson and Amelia discover the joy of taking a “vacation”. Without Ramses.

In some parts the pace is quick and slows down in others, but in all ways the characters are engaging. Chase scenes, battles, protecting the grave sites, Emerson’s dramatic performance, and Amelia’s impetuosity and distinct feminism.

We learn all this from Peters’ use of first person protagonist point-of-view from Amelia’s perspective. It’s her tart edge that gives the series that fun edge, for Amelia does not see the world as society would expect of a woman.

Amelia’s conceit is fairly well justified, as she does put the clues together. Of course, her feminine conceit is high too, especially as she assigns to her husband his “displays [of] a normal degree of masculine incompetence”. Fortunately, Amelia is “always right”.

Yes, Amelia is a bit of a hypocrite.

Amelia and Emerson’s relationship is too funny. I enjoy their friendly battles as well as the backdrop of excavating pyramids in Egypt with all its attendant machinations. Even funnier is Lady Baskerville’s reaction to Emerson’s refusal and why!

I also enjoy how Peters brings that Victorian morality into play, which serves nicely to contrast Amelia’s behavior with society. The way Peters describes their sex life, ahem, is also so very Victorian, lol.

Emerson is so focused on his archeology, and everything he does and says revolves around it. Naturally, he despises most archeologists, particularly those amateurs. But he does warm up to Vandergelt, for his enthusiasm is sweet!

I looked forward to Madame Berengaria’s scenes, as Peters did so nicely in making her repulsive and making me laugh. It cracked me up how she latches on to Emerson, lol. I don’t like the bullying Lady Baskerville. True, it is a sad sign of a lack of confidence, and it’s a bad sign of someone who is not introspective. Speaking of confidence, Mary seemingly hasn’t any, either . . . until you get to know her. It’s a subtle confidence with Mary attracting so much attention from the men. I sure wish she could enjoy it more.

People are so different, with their different passions. Look at those characters who don’t understand the fuss over a few broken objects.

If you enjoy mysteries and strong characters, well, between Emerson’s curses and Amelia with her umbrella . . .

The Story

Bored, bored, bored. Emerson is so bored that Amelia decides to make nice with one of her more irritating neighbors to get access to Sir Harold’s barrow.

Fortunately, a murder pops up to make access unimportant, for Emerson and Peabody hie themselves to Egypt to dig into a tomb and a murder.

The Characters

Sir Henry Baskerville was sent to Egypt for his health where he developed an interest in archeology. His relatively new wife, Lady Baskerville, insists that Henry had poor opinions about Petrie and Naville. Alan Armadale became Baskerville’s archeologist in charge; his cat becomes Bastet (for the cat goddess). Karl von Bork is the epigrapher. Charles Milverton is the photographer. Ahmed is the chef and had previously been employed at Shepheard’s. Atiyah is Lady Baskerville’s maid. Hassan is a night watchman.

Cyrus Vandergelt from New York is an enthusiastic and wealthy amateur. The awful, selfish Madame Berengaria is a nut job; Mary is her beautiful, giving daughter.

Abdullah is the Emersons’ reis (foreman). Feisal is the second-in-command. Part of his crew includes Daoud, one of Abdullah’s many nephews.

Ali Hassan Abd er Rasul, a cousin of Mohammed’s, is part of the search team. Dr Dubois seems hopeless.

Kent, England
Prof Radcliffe Emerson, a.k.a. the Father of Curses, is lecturing and writing. Amelia, a.k.a. the Honorable Sitt Hakim, is being sensible. “Ramses” Walter Peabody Emerson is Amelia and Emerson’s son. Smythe is Amelia’s maid. Rose is the parlormaid. Wilkins is the butler. John is the footman.

Evelyn, the granddaughter of the Duke of Chalfont (Crocodile on the Sandbank, 1), is the wife of Walter Emerson, Emerson’s younger brother, who is a philologist, specializing in ancient Egyptian language. They have three children.

The condescending Lady Harold Carrington is the wife of Sir Harold, who happens to have a barrow on his property. Budge is with the British Museum.

Belzoni entered Seti’s tomb in 1844. In July 1881, Emil Brugsch had been the leader of modern thieves from the village of Gurneh. His brother, Mohammed Abd er Rasul, received a position in the Antiquities Department for his information. Habib is a criminal who once had a daughter, Aziza.

Monsieur Grebaut is the Director of Antiquities. Shepheard’s is the hotel in Egypt. Mr Wilbour, a.k.a. Abd er Dign, normally winters in Egypt. The Reverend Mr Sayce had his own ideas on certain cuneiform tablets. Mr Insinger is a Dutch archeologist. Kevin O’Connell is a reporter with the Daily Yell.

The Cover and Title

The cover is gorgeous with its golden sand raked in furrows in the bottom half, an ancient building with two pharaonic statues on either side of a pillared entry. The sky is a gradient of the lighter of the gold leading up to a dark teal. In the foreground is a uraeus serpent, a sign of a pharaoh, twined around a shovel, which represents the dig. The author’s name is at the top in an embossed font of light golden yellow with a tiny bit of info in black beneath it on the left. At the base of the shovel’s blade is the title in white. Beneath that, in black, is a testimonial.

The title refers to O’Connell’s invention, The Curse of the Pharaohs.

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