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The Painted Queen: An Amelia Peabody Novel of Suspense (Amelia Peabody Series) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 25, 2017
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“[T]he Emerson clan takes a fitting final bow as the curtain falls on a pioneering career.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“Devoted Amelia Peabody fans will read this book with tears in their eyes as they bid farewell to these much-loved characters (and author).” (Library Journal)
“Amelia has really pitched a tent in our hearts.” (Philadelphia Inquirer)
“Amelia Peabody, the bossy archaeologist in Elizabeth Peters’s romantic adventures set in Egypt at the end of the last century, makes a perfect companion for a cruise up the Nile.” (New York Times)
“Amelia is rather like Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple all rolled into one.” (Washington Post Book World)
“Peters’s wily cast of characters keeps the reader coming back for more.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Grand adventure.” (Toronto Sun)
“[A] jewel of a series.” (New York Times Book Review)
“Deeply satisfying. . . . The joy of the Amelia books has always been their elegant sense of humor . . . Peters manages to satirize romantic thrillers while producing some of the finest in the genre.” (Entertainment Weekly)
“Once again, MWA Grandmaster Peters uses vivid settings, sharp characterizations, and deft dialogue to transport the reader to another time and place.” (Publishers Weekly)
From the Back Cover
Set during the golden age of Egyptian archaeology, in a mysterious and exotic land of ancient gods and dark secrets, priceless treasures and cutthroat criminals, the Amelia Peabody mystery series has enthralled fans for decades. Now the daring exploits of the formidable amateur sleuth culminate in this thrilling final adventure.
Shortly after arriving in Cairo for the 1912–1913 excavation season, Amelia Peabody is relaxing in a well-earned bath in her elegant hotel suite when a man with a knife protruding from his back staggers into the bath chamber and utters a single word—“Murder!”—before collapsing on the tiled floor, dead. Among the few possessions he carried was a sheet of paper with Amelia’s name and room number, and a curious piece of pasteboard the size of a calling card bearing one word: “Judas.” Most peculiarly, the stranger was wearing a gold-rimmed monocle in his left eye.
It quickly becomes apparent that someone saved Amelia from a would-be assassin—someone who is keeping a careful eye on the intrepid Englishwoman. After discovering a terse note clearly meant for Emerson—“Where were you?”—pushed under their door, Amelia knows that only one person can be that “someone”: the brilliant master of disguise, Sethos.
But neither assassins nor the Genius of Crime will deter Amelia as she and Emerson head to the excavation site at Amarna, where a priceless treasure was recently discovered: the iconic Nefertiti bust, crafted in 1345 b.c. by the sculptor Thutmose in tribute to the great beauty of this queen, who was also the chief consort of Pharaoh Akhenaton and stepmother to Tutankhamen. It is one of the most precious Egyptian artifacts ever found . . . and now, it seems, it is unaccountably missing.
For Amelia, this excavation season will prove to be unforgettable. Throughout her journey, a parade of men in monocles will die under suspicious circumstances, fascinating new relics will be unearthed, a murderous quest for vengeance will be thwarted, and a diabolical mystery will be solved at last.
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All Elizabeth Peters (Barbara Mertz) fans know that this was the Peabody mystery she had started, but not completed, when she passed away almost four years ago. A longtime friend and associate (Joan Hess) courageously took on the job of completing this work to give Amelia Peabody (et al) fans one last shot at the characters they've come to feel close to over the course of the last few decades.
Why do I call this courageous? Because Peters' style had a rather unique quality, with braggadocio mixed with a deprecating humor in a way that just worked, and was quite unlike anything I'd personally read before. I didn't think the style would be impossible for another writer to spread in to, but I considered that it could be very challenging.
A second aspect is that, for me at least, the underlying plots of the murder mysteries became secondary to the sense of family and the development of characters like Ramses and Nefret. The adventure of solving the crimes was at times part of the character development, and at times something I wanted to have done so that I'd find out what would happen in their personal stories. So yes, I got hooked into the soap opera element of the continuing series -- hungry for the next news of Ramses and Nefret's romance -- anxious for the next contact with Sethos and what it would mean -- wondering if Emerson's brother and sister-in-law would ever come back in for a major contribution.
Why do I mention all this before I discuss "The Painted Queen"? Because the manner in which the character development and humor are presented are, to me, the hinge upon which the success of this novel rests as an integral entry in the Amelia Peabody series.
The result, I'll report, is a bit mixed, but it weighs in much more on the positive side of the ledger. I find the characterizations to be true, and the elements of the plot live up to the series as written by Peters. Amelia's "journals" provide the essence of her entertaining personality, if not always presented with the subtlety of Peters' style.
"The Painted Queen" covers a "lost year" in the series, and one that came in the middle of a most important sequence of character development. It is set after "The Falcon at the Portal", where Nefret marries someone other than Ramses in a mistaken rage at Ramses -- and "He Shall Thunder in the Sky", where Ramses and Nefret have a very rocky road to reconciliation. After having Ramses and Nefret present as a happy couple and competent motive force, I'm not sure how you mentally go back to a time before that, but then again Peters intended to fill in many of the missing years, and those include periods of time "pre-Ramses/Nefret". This was the third book in that goal, after "Guardian of the Horizon" and "A River in the Sky". Thus far I've read the series in publication order, so I have yet to "go back in time" to those books, meaning that "The Painted Queen" is my first experience of these missing years. However, it comes not long after I read the two novels which bookend it, which put me in a good position to evaluate it against the timeline.
Hess seems to get right into action more quickly and with a more rapid pace than I've been used to from Peters. Some might think that an improvement. I have come to enjoy the circumlocution which Peters frequently employed with both Amelia and Ramses, so I found delays before and during action to be a charming element of the color of these novels, and therefore the slight difference in Hess' style was more noticeable for that reason. However, I don't really consider this a criticism, just a difference, as had to happen in some ways when one author completes the work of another -- especially in a series this long with such a well established style.
So while "The Painted Queen" doesn't serve as a wrap-up to the series, as one might expect of a "last book", it does give us a last experience with the characters we've come to enjoy and feel close to. It is certainly a solid offering. While some passages seem to lack the light touch of Peters, the overall tone is quite familiar and acceptable.
If you're a fan of the Amelia Peabody series, you certainly won't want to miss this last tribute to the characters and their marvelous author.
I couldn't finish this book.
It's not only that Amelia isn't Amelia anymore. That would be enough - she, and everyone else, are like cardboard cutouts of themselves - they might superficially resemble the characters I've grown up with, but their personalities are lacking and their souls are entirely missing. This Amelia ASKS for protection. This Emerson snaps instead of shouting. This Ramses is a boring English gentleman and this Nefret is a boring young woman who happens to have made a poor marital decision. It's as though they'd died and been reanimated, only some bits were missing, so someond stitched on plastic imitations instead. Amelia has a fake wit, Emerson a fake temper...they should have been left peacefully in their graves. Ms. Mertz is probdy turning somersaults in hers.
I probably wouldn't have enjoyed the book anyway, given that the characters I love aren't in it; only their doppelgängers. The reason I couldn't finish it, though, is the writing itself. I could tell within three words when a section of Ms. Mertz's writing began, because the contrast was terribly stark. I know Ms. Hess is a friend of Barbara Mertz's, and I've never read any of her books, so I don't want to malign her, but, in this book, her writing - the actual words and sentence structure - just doesn't measure up to Ms. Mertz's remarkable prose. Ms. Mertz's vocabulary and syntax were sublimely perfect, almost all the time. Admittedly poor writing is one of my pet peeves, but I put up with passive voice, questionable slang, and improper use of "me" and "I" in many, many books, because they are isolated faults in an otherwise well-written manuscript. Ms. Mertz's books have always been beautifully written, because she was intelligent, well-read, and exacting. Her writing raises her above the crowd even more than her characters and stories do. In this book, the writing is just awful. I am flabbergasted by the positive reviews - I can only conclude that most people absorb the story without actually noticing the words involved. Again, I'm not saying Ms. Hess can't write - she was on unfamiliar territory, so to speak, which may have impacted her usual abilities. But the parts of this book not written by Ms. Mertz are simplistic, mass market, lowest common denominator stuff; the kind of thing Jacqueline Kirby parodies in her romances, (if you don't know Jacqueline Kirby, you should.) It was poorly organized, too - I got around 1/3 of the way through, and I really couldn't tell you what was going on. It read like a series of random encounters between generic characters - characters, not people.
I would never have purchased this book if I'd read a sample of the first chapter, and it was actually painful to read in this context, against the background of the whole series. I was almost in tears by the time I gave up.
Arguably, no one else could have done justice to Amelia Peabody - she is a truly remarkable character, even amongst Ms. Mertz's heroines. I think trying was a mistake - I would rather the book had remained unpublished.