Sunday, August 6, 2017
The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess
This is the 19th and (sadly) final book in the Amelia Peabody mystery series set during the great 19th and early 20th century excavations of ancient Egyptian sites.
Elizabeth Peters was one of the pseudonyms of Barbara Mertz, who earned a Ph.D in Egyptology from the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute in 1952. But she found fame as a mystery novelist who produced some seventy books over a fifty-year career. Most prominent among these were her Amelia Peabody series. Amelia was introduced in The Crocodile on the Sandbank (1975), in which the strong-minded spinster broke all the Victorian rules and traveled on her own to Egypt. Where she met Radcliffe Emerson, that sapphiric-eyed archaeologist, who would quarrel with her, shout at her, and ultimately win her while excavating the ruins of the ancient city of Amarna once ruled by the heretic Pharaoh Akhenaton.
Subsequent books in the series chronicled the archaeological and "criminous" adventures of Emerson and Peabody and their assorted family, friends, professional colleagues and competitors, servants, workers, and enemies over the years from 1884 to 1923. What sets these apart are Peters' skill as a writer, her ability to weave fascinating facts about Egypt, both ancient and more recent, into her narrative, and her sardonic humor.
The series ended, chronologically, with the publication of The Tomb of the Golden Bird (2006) featuring the Emersons' near miss at discovering the tomb of Tutankhamun. Peters published A River in the Sky in 2010, filling in a gap in the series; and was working on The Painted Queen to fill in another gap, when she died in 2013. At the urgent request of her heirs, agent and publisher, her friend and fellow mystery author Joan Hess agreed to finish the story. It was published this year.
The Painted Queen is also set in Armarna, but this time it is 1912. Emerson and Peabody have come out to Egypt for the season, and have permission to excavate at another site, but are asked to intervene at Amarna because the original excavator, Ludwig Borchardt (fact) has been called home to Germany by family matters (fiction), and his temporary replacement Herr Morgenstern (fiction) is reported to have precipitously abandoned his charge and gone to Cairo.
The Emersons soon discover that Herr Morgenstern decamped to Cairo with an exquisite painted bust of an ancient queen. Their valiant efforts to track down the missing archaeologist and retrieve his find are complicated by vengeful attacks on Amelia and their son Ramses by the five lawless half brothers of the Emersons' foster daughter’s late and unlamented husband.
It was in fact the German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt who discovered the iconic bust of Nefertiti, consort of Akhenaton and mother-in-law of Tutankhamun, while excavating the workshop of the court sculptor Thutmose amid the ruins of Amarna (dating to 1345 B.C.)
If you haven't yet read the series, don't start with The Painted Queen. Go back to the beginning and read the books in chronological order, so you don't miss out on any of the fun or the mystery!
Click HERE for the publication announcement from Mystery Scene Magazine.
Click HERE for the review from Kirkus Reviews.
Click HERE for the review from Publishers Weekly.
Clcik HERE to find information on Tell-el-Amarna from the Encyclopedia Britannica.