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Crocodile on the Sandbank: 05/07/13

cover art

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters begins the 18 volume long Amelia Peabody series. It was first published in 1975 but I didn't "discover" the series until 1989. I was sixteen and teaching myself how to speed read. I think in my enthusiasm, I missed a bunch of details and I've been misremembering things ever since. The biggest memory gaff was my belief that Amelia Peabody was American (although I knew the Emersons were British).

About a year ago, a book club friend turned me onto audio books. They're great for my commute or for when I'm cooking or folding laundry. The book that got me hooked was Fatally Flaky by Diane Mott Davidsonn. It was performed by Barbara Rosenblat. She happens to also do Elizabeth Peters two series: Amelia Peabody and Vicky Bliss. I decided for giggles to re-read the Amelia Peabody series on audio and do the series in order.

The book opens with thirty-something Amelia Peabody inheriting money from her late father. She decides to travel to Europe to enjoy the freedom afforded a spinster with funds. Her original traveling companion falls ill while in Italy. While on her own, Amelia encounters a young British woman who has been living in Italy in deplorable conditions. To save the young woman and to continue with her plans of visiting Egypt, Amelia takes the young waif on as her new traveling companion.

Although later books focus on Amelia (or Peabody as she's mostly called later on) and her work as an Egyptologist, Crocodile on the Sandbank is her first trip to Egypt and her only trip as a single woman. This book, then is our introduction to the country, its history under British occupation, and to the early days of Egyptology. It's written in the form of a fictional travelogue and while Amelia promises her "dear reader" that she will avoid such a book. Later volumes are more character oriented (almost annoyingly so, sometimes).

The mystery, part, then, doesn't come until well after Amelia Peabody and companion Evelyn are arrived in Armana and introduced to the brothers Emerson: Walter and Radcliffe (just about the only time he's known by his first name). It's also one of those rare, mundane mysteries — no master criminal (a character who first surfaces in The Mummy Case).

In listening to the book after more than a decade of first reading it, I only had a few concrete memories of details. I remembered Amelia and Evelyn's meeting (though not the location). I remembered Evelyn paining a copy of the floor everyone was working so carefully to preserve. I remember the floor being destroyed. I also remembered who the murderer was but not who he was collaborating with.

All in all I enjoyed listening to the book. I have a few quibbles with Rosenblat's voice for Amelia. Her British accent is a little too put on — reminding me of the haughty overtones used by the mayor's wife in The Music Man. As it's an early audio for Rosenblat and the first in the series, I'll let it slide. I've heard later ones in the series and Amelia's voice and accent are tempered

Four stars

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