Ah, June! The sun has made a comeback. What better than to read a murder mystery set in the baking hot Egyptian desert while sunbathing on the beach!
Amelia Peabody is a guilty pleasure read. But come on, every book comes with a dose of Egyptology and a feminist Indiana Jones mixed with murder, mystery, and adventure. My mum (thank you) introduced them to me in my early twenties, and I often dip back into them for a reread. Lucky me, there is an entire series.
Peabody is very much a modern woman stuck in the Victorian era. Emerson, too, is very much a modern archaeologist stuck amongst equals in the field, who are little more than tomb robbers. They are equally strong-minded characters who pair up (both professionally and romantically) with their sights set on having a wonderful life together, excavating tombs and pyramids. Unfortunately, murders, mysteries, master criminals, lost civilisations, adventure, and the appearance of offspring spoil their plans somewhat. These are fun, easy, enjoyable reads. The character banter (especially between Peabody and Emerson) is brilliantly written. The writer was an Egyptologist, so it feels like you are in the desert with them.
The Crocodile on the Sandbank (book 1) – Elizabeth Peters
Set in the late 19th Century, thirty-two-year-old spinster, Amelia Peabody, has inherited a tidy sum from her late father and travels the historical sights. In Rome, she befriends Evelyn, who had been set to inherit her own fortune but fell into ruin when she ran off with an artist who recently dumped her. Together, they travel to Egypt and meet Egyptologists and brothers Radcliff and Walter Emerson.
Evelyn develops a romantic interest in the younger Walter, while Peabody locks horns with his rude and arrogant older brother, Radcliff. However, Evelyn’s life is further complicated when a distant cousin, who inherited the fortune she was initially entitled to, appears and asks her to marry him. On top of this, all their lives are further complicated when a mummy found during the dig suddenly becomes animated and takes an interest in them. Have they stumbled on an ancient curse, or are more human forces at play?
The Last Camel Died at Noon (book 6) – Elizabeth Peters
Peabody and Emerson begin work at an archaeological site in the Sudan. Quickly, their plans are upturned (Emerson gets frustrated at anything which stops him from digging) when they become involved in a foolhardy search for an African explorer and his bride who disappeared twelve years earlier.
Barely surviving the perils of the desert, Peabody and Emerson find an archaeologist’s paradise: a lost city and civilisation. Trapped, can they free themselves and the lost explorer they were sent to find?
The Snake, The Crocodile and the Dog (book 7) – Elizabeth Peters
Peabody and Emerson (minus their offspring) can finally enjoy an archaeological dig together and (Amelia hopes) to rekindle some of the romance of their earlier years. Amelia’s wishes come true, but not in the way she hoped. Emerson goes missing, but Peabody is not a woman to sit around and wail. Action is needed, and when she rescues her spouse, she discovers he has amnesia and no recollection of who she is. Fighting off a mysterious individual who wants to murder her husband, Peabody must also try to win back Emerson’s heart all over again.
Essex Dogs – Dan Jones
1346. The dawn of The Hundred Years’ War, and King Edward’s army is on the march through France. The Essex Dogs, led by Captain Loveday Fitztalbot, must stay alive if they stand any hope of returning home again.
Written by historian Dan Jones, it is wondrously peppered with historical details from the period. Unfortunately, this is the Essex Dog’s one good merit. Where it falls down is the story and the characters.
The opening when they land on the beach is engaging, but once over, very little happens in the first half of the book. It picks up in the second half, but what lets down the story are the passive characters. It is scene after scene of the Dogs receiving orders/acting out orders, and luck (good and bad) drives the outcome. Rarely did I get the impression the Dogs were acting in their own interests or showing initiative to improve their situation. None of the Dogs seem to be very proactive. Yes, it’s war, and they must follow orders. But it feels like they’re being dragged through the entire ordeal (and the reader with them).
The book is part of a trilogy, but the ending stops with a character (who disappeared for a good chunk of the book) reappearing to drop a minor cliffhanger. The book didn’t have a clear beginning/middle/end, and the character arcs never really appeared.
Another gripe is the poor dialogue. It was great to see the religiously-themed curses thrown in and they were amusing in the first few instances. Unfortunately, they are a consistent feature in the dialogue and quickly lose any of their initial punch. I can say the same for the general swearing. The F-word is overused to the point it lessens its effectiveness, makes the dialogue repetitive and makes everyone sound the same. The one distinct character voice in the story is Northampton, but his voice is so over the top that he ends up sounding like some post-watershed character from Blackadder.
I noticed one reviewer compares Essex Dog’s to Bernard Cornwell’s writing, but none of Cornwell’s characters passively let fate lead them. They were proactive. You had a sense their presence made a difference to the plot. In Essex Dogs, you could have picked any company in the army because they never did much.
An ARC was provided to me by the publisher via Net Galley in return for an honest review.