Book Review: The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess

Posted August 30, 2017 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters
Series: ,
Genres: Adventure, Historical, Mystery, Amateur Sleuth
Published by William Morrow on July 25, 2017
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

Buy on Amazon
Also by this author: Crocodile on the Sandbank, The Curse of the Pharaohs, The Mummy Case

A full-length novel, The Painted Queen is 11.5 chronologically and twentieth (and last) publication-wise in the Amelia Peabody historical mystery series revolving around a forceful female and her archeologist husband. This story is set in Egypt in 1912.

My Take

I do so hate when an author I like dies. There oughta be a law against that! Technically, The Painted Queen is Peters’ last story, which was actually finished by Joan Hess. For the most part, it reads like one of Elizabeth Peters’ stories with just that little bit off, with less warmth, without more effort in tying the non-core characters into the story, and too much leaping to conclusions. Nor could I buy into Peabody’s dream sequence with Abdullah either.

As usual, it’s good triumphing over evil, but only after lots of adventures, attempted assassinations, kidnappings, escapes, chases, and the use of disguises. Part of what I like about the series is, well, hey, Egypt, history, and archeology along with a mystery. What’s not to like?

What really pulls me in are the characters who are so colorful and decent at the same time. I love that Peabody is such a mothering woman who hasn’t a prejudiced bone in her body when it comes to people. Types? Yeah. She has no patience for crooks or evil people. She doesn’t suffer fools or the discourteous either and terrifies most of those around her who have no idea how to counter such a forceful woman, lol.

Peabody has no need of women’s lib, since she’s already more liberated than even women today, *more laughter* and supports other women in pursuing their dreams. She can be annoying with that attitude of hers in always knowing what’s right and what to do in any situation, including medical emergencies.

I do enjoy the premise that Elizabeth Peters is merely transcribing Peabody’s diary, which helps explain the first-person protagonist point-of-view, although Peters could have gone further in making this more realistic. Yes, even though I do like the story(ies)! Peters has also given Peabody a unique voice — those word choices and sentence structure are so very Peabody-ish — that conveys the intellect and mores of the time period.

As for the niggles… What’s the deal with Maspero? At first he’s all gung-ho about Emerson taking over Morgenstern’s dig, and then he starts retreating. Why didn’t the Emersons make inquiries about the German ambassador? As for Miss Smith, her identity became obvious too quickly. And I must re-read the series (I wanna anyway, *grin*), as I don’t remember Emerson being so very hasty. I do wish Peters/Hess had provided a clearer reason as to why Ramses and David are so intent on scooping up all those fakes.

The back history Peters/Hess includes is nicely integrated and just enough to nudge the “little gray cells” into remembering bits and pieces (and making me want to do that re-read).

The Story

Their first day back in Egypt and Amelia Peabody is already threatened with assassination. In the bath!

Even more disconcerting is M. Maspero’s plea for Emerson’s aid at a prestigious dig site, after all, most of the archeological authorities in Egypt hate Emerson. But Herr Morgenstern is behaving erratically, and Amarna is too important.

As for that first assassination, it’s soon followed by more and more with yet more attempts at the end. For Amelia, this excavation season will prove to be unforgettable.

The Characters

Amelia “Sitt Hakim” Peabody Emerson is the forceful wife of Professor Radcliffe “the Father of Curses” Emerson, an eminent (and irascible) archeologist who does not suffer fools. Dr. Nefret “Nur Misur” Forth, a doctor, is their foster daughter (The Last Camel Died at Noon, 6), recovering from events in Falcon at the Portal, 11, with those evil “revelations” continuing to affect her attitude. Walter “Ramses” Emerson, a.k.a., “Brother of Demons”, is their brilliant and adventurous son. David Todros, Abdullah’s grandson, is Ramses’ best friend and “partner in crime”, and married to Lia Emerson, a niece. (Some of Ramses’ and David’s disguises include Lord Cavendish, Higginsnort, and Arbaaz.)

Selim is the Emersons’ current reis; Abdullah had been their first. Fatima is Selim’s wife and their cook and housekeeper. Mahmoud is their steward. Daoud is a trusted part of the crew. Mohammed is their carpenter. Ilyas. The dahabeeyah is the Egyptian houseboat Emerson commissioned (and named) for Amelia. Cyrus and Katherine Vandergelt are American friends who come to dig in Egypt every season.

Service des Antiquités is…
…a government department in charge of handing out firmans (a license to excavate) for archeological digs in Egypt, and M. Maspero is its director. Sir Flinders Petrie is an archeologist. Zawaiet el-Aryan is supposed to be the dig to which Peabody and Emerson are headed.

Tell el-Amarna is…
…the city which Akhenaton, the Heretic Pharaoh, created as his new capital. The Workmen’s Village is part of the dig there. Thutmose had been the court sculptor there back in its heyday. The man in charge of the dig, Herr Borchardt, has gone back to Germany and been replaced by Herr Morgenstern. Abdul Azim has been Morgenstern’s reis for years. Eric von Raubritter is Morgenstern’s second-in-command. Liezel Hasenkamp is a colleague of Eric’s who is pretending to be his fiancée. The sponsor for the dig is Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft for whom James Ridgemont is a major contributor. Octavius Buddle is his aide.

Thomas Russell is the chief of police in Cairo. Helmut Gunter is the German ambassador’s aide. Latif is a twelve-year-old child who is an informant for Ramses in Cairo. Omar Hassan el-Tayeb escaped the English family who used him as a houseboy. Ikram is his mother. Sheikh Nasir el-Din is the angry leader of Omar’s tribe. Tahir is an accommodating cousin of David’s.

Shepheard’s is…
…an elite hotel in Cairo. Mr. Baehler is the manager. Ali is a suffragi, which is something like a footman in that his duty is to patrol the hallways, direct visitors to their rooms, and prevent them from being annoyed. Dr. Forbes is the hotel physician.

Sethos, the “Master Criminal”, is a master of disguise and an antiquities thief extraordinaire. Some of his aliases include Professor Ambrose Doyle. Other tomb robbers include Mahmud Farouk, Asmar, Agha, and Mustafa Ahmed. Aslimi has a shop in the Khan el-Khalili in Cairo; Abubakar also sells to tourists. Fahmi sells cloth. Harun is the best forger in Cairo. Mayer sells an assortment of objects. Shamal has aided Sethos before.

Sponsored by the Enlightened Brethren of the Church of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the hairy Theodor Dullard is a missionary preaching about Jesus to the Coptic congregation. Ermintrude de Vere Smith is the author of lurid romance novels about sheiks and innocent young girls, and she’s excited about Peabody’s adventures. Jamil assists her. Lucinda is an American tourist.

Dr. Willoughby is the Emersons’ family physician in England. Sir Reginald Arbuthnot is with Scotland Yard. MDMA is a drug prototype.

Geoffrey Godwin is Nefret’s late and very unlamented husband. He has five more brothers: Judas, Cromwell, Absalom, Guy, and Flitworthy.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a sunset of some few orange, red, and yellow streaks over the deep purple silhouette of the archeological dig with some few pillars which stand against the deeply purple sky. The foreground descends into the reddish sand of the desert. It is the background for the focus of the story, a bust of The Painted Queen, an artifact looted from a dig and “on the run”. The authors’ names are in a shadowed yellow at the top with the title in white below Queen Nefertiti. Between and to the right of the queen is the series information in yellow.

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