Desert Isle Keeper Review

Crocodile on the Sandbank

Elizabeth Peters
1988 reissue of 1972 release, Historical Mystery (1880s [Victorian] Egypt)
Mysterious Press, $7.99, 272 pages, Amazon ASIN 0445406518
Part of a series

Grade: A
Sensuality: Kisses

I first read Crocodile on the Sandbank more than 20 years ago, and fell in love with Amelia Peabody, Emerson, and the rest of the gang. I've thought fondly of the book ever since, but managed to forget the title and the author. Finally, in 2002 I did some searches on the web and discovered not only the author's name Elizabeth Peters but also the fact that the book is just the first in a long series featuring Amelia and Emerson. It, however, reads very well as a stand-alone book.

At the heart of the story is Amelia Peabody, a strong, independent English woman, with a sharp wit and a soft heart. Amelia's father a scholar and antiquarian raised Amelia in a small English town. With nothing else to do, Amelia developed a love of languages and antiquities, and quite happily spent her days in study (in addition to bickering with local shopkeepers). When Amelia was 32, her father died, leaving her his entire, substantial estate. Rather than settle into a marriage with one of her sudden spurt of suitors, Amelia decides to use the money to explore the antiquities she and her father had studied.

We first encounter Amelia in Rome, at the start of her grand world tour. While making plans for a trip to Egypt, Amelia encounters Evelyn, a young English woman in desperate straights. Evelyn, by her own words, is "ruined." Rather than being shocked by Evelyn's circumstances, Amelia rescues her, and quickly takes her on as a traveling companion. Once in Cairo, Amelia and Evelyn prepare for an extended trip on the Nile. After renting the Philae, an elegant houseboat, Amelia discovers that it will take much longer than planned to get the boat fitted with a crew and furnishings. Amelia makes the most of her time in Cairo, and discovers a true passion for pyramids, and all things Egyptian.

Even more importantly, it is in Cairo that Amelia first encounters Emerson. While touring a local museum, Amelia complains to Evelyn about the dusty condition of the collection. Frustrated, Amelia picks up an artifact and begins to rub it with her handkerchief. A tall man with a booming voice immediately accosts her. Thus begins the first, of many, heated, and hilarious, arguments between Amelia and Emerson.

Radcliffe Emerson known only as Emerson by everyone but his brother is an Englishman and a noted archaeologist. Emerson is Amelia's equal in all ways. He is brilliant, opinionated, quick to argue, and passionate about archaeology and Egypt. Although he hides it well, Emerson also cares deeply for his much gentler brother Walter. While Amelia and Emerson argue in the museum, Evelyn and Walter develop a quick fondness for each other. Unfortunately, a second encounter between the four at Amelia's hotel ends badly, and Evelyn concludes that she and Walter can never have a life together.

The next day, Amelia and Evelyn leave Cairo to begin their trip on the Nile. Eventually, the two end up at Emerson's excavation site in Amarnah, where they discover that Emerson is ill with a high fever. Amelia quickly begins not only to doctor Emerson back to health, but also to become personally involved in the excavation work. Just as Emerson begins to recover his health, and take up numerous battles with Amelia or Peabody as he calls her a series of incidents plagues the camp, highlighted by nighttime visits by a Mummy.

This is a very light mystery, with many laugh-out-loud moments. There are no scenes of graphic violence, no dead bodies, no scenes told from the villain's point of view. In fact, the entire book is told from Amelia's rather unique point of view. The primary mystery is the identity and motivation of the Mummy. While light on mystery, Crocodile is strong in character development. Amelia, in particular, has many delightful quirks, from her love of medicine, to her trusty parasol, to her adoption of the Rational Dress League's recommendations.

In the end, as with all good mysteries, the criminals are brought to justice. More importantly for this romance reader, Amelia definitely gets her happily-ever-after, one that extends through the remaining books in the series. While the books in this series are technically mysteries, they are, for me, at their core, about the relationships between the main characters. I have read all of the rest of the books in the series, but Crocodile on the Sandbank will always hold a special place in my heart.

Reviewer's Note: In addition to interesting characters, Crocodile on the Sandbank brims with scenes of late 19th century Egypt and the archaeology of the time. Since first reading the book, I have learned that Ms. Peters (Barbara Mertz in real life), holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Egyptology. In 2004 Elizabeth Peters, along with Kristen Whitbread, published Amelia Peabody's Egypt, a book that mixes facts about the Egypt of Amelia's time (including over 500 photos), as well as "biographies" and pictures all of the key characters in the series.

-- LinnieGayl Kimmel

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