Elizabeth Peters

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.

Malice Domestic 2012: Celebrating the Traditional Mystery with Elizabeth Peters This Year!

I'm home after attending the Malice Domestic mystery convention. If you're asking yourself what on earth "Malice Domestic" means, here's a quick explanation: Agatha Christie wrote traditional mysteries with puzzle plots that involve characters we get to know, quite different from conspiracy thrillers or gritty hard-boiled stories that also live in the mystery genre. Malice Domestic celebrates traditional mysteries. It's what I write and what I love to read.

Meeting Elizabeth Peters!!!
One of the authors who epitomizes this genre is Elizabeth Peters, whose books I have adored since I was a teenager. She stopped attending mystery conventions years ago, but she attended one afternoon of Malice Domestic this year to receive the Amelia award, an award named for her spectacular character Amelia Peabody.

It was a highlight of the convention when I got to meet her! What a lovely, gracious author. When I met up with my friends afterward, I believe I was giggling like I was thirteen years old. 

I moderated a Travel Mysteries panel featuring Hilary Davidson, Janice Hamrick, Maddy Hunter, Marie Moore, and Sara Wisseman. These authors have books set around the world in Egypt, Peru, and Europe, so it was fun to hear their travel stories that impacted their fiction. (UPDATE: Marie's husband took a photo of the panel, which I've added below.)

Our Travel Mysteries panel.  

Kaye George and Jenny Milchman.
Although panels at conventions are great, one of the best parts is who you meet informally, such as running into Kaye George (a fellow member of the Guppies chapter of Sisters in Crime who was up for an Agatha this year) and Jenny Milchman. If you haven't heard of Jenny's "Made It Moments" blog where authors share their stories about the moment they feel like they've "made it" as an author, you need to check it out. It's one of the most inspiring things you'll read all day.

A couple of my friends arrived late to a panel we had all planned to attend, so I ended up sitting and chatting with Sujata Massey, who writes the Rei Shimura mysteries. I learned she's working on a new book, The Sleeping Dictionary, set in colonial India, that sounds very cool.

With Sujata Massey.

In addition to chance encounters, I also planned in advance to meet up with two writers I knew through the Guppies, Kendel Flaum and Diane Vallere. The three of us first got to know each other when we traded works-in-progress. We really liked each others writing, so we decided to embark on a joint project together (more details to follow later this summer). The project has been going great, in spite of the fact that we hadn't ever hung out in person! I had met Diane very briefly once before, and Diane had met Kendel, but the three of were very much virtual friends—until this weekend.

Hanging out with partners in crime Kendel Flaum and Diane Vallere.

At the Agathas Banquet.

Guppy Leslie Budewitz won an Agatha award for her non-fiction guide for authors BOOKS, CROOKS, AND COUNSELORS.

Leslie Budewitz accepting her Agatha Award for BOOKS, CROOKS, AND COUNSELORS

At lunch with Leslie Budewitz, Avery Aames, Tracy Kiely, Kaye George, and Sandra Parshall.

Last but not least, I'm happy to report I finally met Nicole Peeler! I was starting to believe this urban fantasy author was a figment of my imagination. Turns out I was mistaken—she's real! And very fun.

Meeting Nicole Peeler in person for the first time.

p.s. I played hookie from the convention for a few hours one afternoon to see the gargoyles on the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. I'll post more photos of the gargoyles over at Gargoyle Girl next week.

A gargoyle on the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.