Amelia Peabody

Tea with Amelia Peabody: A Tribute to Elizabeth Peters

I'm a huge fan of Elizabeth Peters, so I was incredibly happy to see that the Northern California Chapter of the American Research Center in Egypt was planning an event celebrating Elizabeth Peters and her indomitable heroine Amelia Peabody, the Victorian era Egyptologist in 19 of Peters' mystery novels.

A few dozen fans and scholars gathered on Sunday afternoon for a lovely tea, similar to what Amelia would have been served at Shepheard's Hotel in Cairo. Following the tea service, several scholars gave short lectures on the real-life stories behind the books. In addition, there was a costume contest for the guests who dressed as characters from the books (I did not, but about half of the guests did!).

"Gummy Mummy"

Slide from one of the lectures,
speculating about the real life model for the character Emerson.

A look at the setting of Crocodile on the Sandbank,
Amelia Peabody Book 1. 

More fun with background from the books. 

Guests in costume, with the resident Mummy. 

Memories of Barbara Mertz / Elizabeth Peters, 1927 - 2013

I can't imagine the world of mystery novels existing without the dozens of books written by Barbara Mertz under her pen name, Elizabeth Peters.

Barbara Mertz passed away on Thursday, August 8, 2013, at the age of 85. She brought readers countless hours of joy through her amazing books, plus inspired so many of us to become mystery writers ourselves. I doubt I would have discovered either the joy of reading or tried my hand at writing if it hadn't been for her.

I started with the Vicky Bliss mystery series when I was in high school. American art history professor Vicky Bliss traveled to foreign lands on mysterious and romantic adventures that were fun, incredibly clever, and full of memorable characters and settings. That was the gateway series that led me to the Amelia Peabody Egyptology mysteries set in the late 1800s, and the Jacqueline Kirby (intrepid librarian) series. Not to mention her stand-alone novels... It's no wonder I've devoted a full shelf, two rows deep, to fit her books on my bookshelf.

Shelf devoted to Elizabeth Peters books.

This shelf of Elizabeth Peters books is two rows deep.

In 2012, the Malice Domestic mystery convention honored Barbara with the Amelia Award, a new award created in honor of the Amelia Peabody character she created. She hadn't attended the convention in several years, and I had never previously met her. It was incredibly meaningful to meet her in person and tell her how much her books had meant to me.
Barbara Mertz signing books at Malice Domestic 2012.
As I stood in the signing line, I learned that my feelings were far from unique. One woman even burst into tears upon meeting her. I wasn't quite that demonstrative, but I admit I may have babbled. Yet you'd never know it based on the gracious reaction from Barbara Mertz. She congratulated me on Artifact and signed my beloved old copy of Borrower of the Night, the first book in the Vicky Bliss series, that I've held onto for decades.
My beaten-up old copy of Borrower of the Night that I've read countless times.

I'm saving this book forever!

Meeting Barbara Mertz at Malice Domestic 2012.

If you've never tried one of her books, here are a few that are good ones to start with:

  • Borrower of the Night (Vicky Bliss Book 1)
  • Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody Book 1)
  • The Murders of Richard III (Jacqueline Kirby)

She will be missed by her family and friends as well as the scores of readers whose lives she brightened. Her marvelous books live on.

My Fan Girl Week

Two events this past week have gone a long way towards balancing out my crappy, cancer-filled last year. First, I met one of the two mystery authors whose books I've loved since I was a teenager. Then, I received a fantastic book blurb from the other one!

Last week, I wrote about meeting Barbara Mertz (who writes mysteries as Elizabeth Peters) at the Malice Domestic mystery convention. When I returned home, I had to pinch myself when I found a book blurb from Aaron Elkins waiting for me.

Aaron Elkins had graciously agreed to read an Advance Reader Copy of Artifact, so I knew it was a possibility that I'd receive a blurb if he liked the book. But I couldn't quite believe it when it when I read the email.

"How wonderful to see a young, new writer who harks back to the Golden Age of mystery fiction. Artifact is...witty, clever, and twisty, with a unique, easy-to-root-for protagonist in Jaya Jones...Do you like Agatha Christie? Elizabeth Peters? Then you're going to love Gigi Pandian."
AARON ELKINS, Edgar®-winning author of the Gideon Oliver "Skeleton Detective" mysteries

Now, for those of you who haven't read any mystery novels by Elizabeth Peters or Aaron Elkins, let me give a brief overview, since you're definitely missing out. There are lots of other fabulous mystery writers out there (such as one of my current favorites, Daniel Stashower, who writes a great series about Harry Houdini among other things), but there's nothing quite like the books we discovered while growing up, is there?

Both Elizabeth Peters and Aaron Elkins write adventure mysteries with American (and sometimes British) academics solving mysteries abroad, usually involving a historical mystery linked to a present day crime. These aren't thrillers, but rather are puzzle mysteries in the tradition of Agatha Christie, full of characters easy to fall in love with. I love this stuff, which is why I decided to write it.

Elizabeth Peters is best known for the humorous Amelia Peabody mystery series featuring a Victorian era Egyptologist. While I love Amelia, art historian Vicky Bliss is my favorite character written by Elizabeth Peters. Vicky gets swept up in mysteries across Europe and finds herself falling for a dashing jewel thief. (Oh, the romance! And yes, it says something about the stages of life that until I met my husband I never fully appreciated the romantic elements of the Amelia Peabody books, since I couldn't believe that settling down with a great guy could be as romantic as running around with an international jewel thief.)

Aaron Elkins writes the Gideon Oliver mysteries about a forensic anthropologist who solves mysteries all over the world. My parents are anthropologists, so I grew up getting to tag along on research trips like these, but for some reason our real life trips never ended up matching the level of adventure in these books. Hmm... I suppose that was probably a good thing. But I'm glad I've got the books.

Recommended reading:

Borrower of the Night - The first Vicky Bliss mystery by Elizabeth Peters that takes Vicky from the midwestern college where she teaches to a romp of a treasure hunt at a German castle.

The Crocodile on the Sandbank - The first Amelia Peabody mystery by Elizabeth Peters where Amelia first visits Egypt and must solve a mystery involving a walking mummy who's after Amelia's friend.

The Murders of Richard III - Paying homage to both Josephine Tey and the English countryside house-party murder mystery, in this book Elizabeth Peters takes librarian Jacqueline Kirby to a gathering of a Richard III society who want to prove the 500-year-old king innocent, but they instead find a murderous history repeating itself.

Old Bones - An atmospheric Gideon Oliver mystery by Aaron Elkins that takes place at Mont St. Michel in France. (This book won an Edgar award.)

Curses - Gideon Oliver solves the mystery of a supposed curse at a Mayan archaeological dig.