Title: Crocodile on the Sandbank
Author: Elizabeth Peters
Series: Amelia Peabody #1
Amelia Peabody, that indomitable product of the Victorian age, embarks on her first Egyptian adventure armed with unshakable self-confidence, a journal to record her thoughts, and, of course, a sturdy umbrella.
On her way, Amelia rescues young Evelyn Barton-Forbes, who has been “ruined” and abandoned on the streets of Rome by her rascally lover. With a typical disregard for convention, Amelia promptly hires her fellow countrywoman as a companion and takes her to Cairo.
Eluding Alberto, Evelyn’s former lover, who wants her back, and Evelyn’s cousin, Lord Ellesmere, who wishes to marry her, the two women sail up the Nile. They disembark at an archaeological site run by the Emerson brothers – the irascible, but dashing, Radcliffe, and the amiable Walter. Soon their little party is increased by one – one mummy, that is, and a singularly lively example of the species. Strange visitations, suspicious accidents, and a botched kidnapping convince Amelia that there is a plot afoot to harm Evelyn.
Lucas, for pity’s sake, seize it! Don’t stand there deriding its linguistic inadequacies!
Do you care for a mystery where the heroine explains at every step that men suck and are useless (in the appropriate Victorian terminology) but nevertheless the men in the story do most of the mystery-solving? And who then ends up married and pregnant at the end?
I’m being a bit unfair here but not too much. Amelia isn’t that type of heroine who constantly talks about how strong she is but still faints at every occasion. She has a strong will but often it feels she is only right because the author says so. She wants to travel along the Nile but insists on the ship traveling the way she wants it. Objections by the captain that a different route would be better due to the wind get ignored. She is right because she is a woman and the captain just a stupid man! OK, they end up hitting a sandbank twice but Amelia isn’t bothered by that. She got her own way and that is important! She never stops to consider that under certain circumstances she should trust the experienced people. Like a captain where sea-travel is concerned.
Which makes it somewhat ironic that when it comes to the mystery-solving she’s just there to fill in the blanks at the end after a man has already done most of the work. And yes, if she’d had all the information she would have figured it out earlier. And the reason for her not having all the information even makes sense. It still is somewhat unfortunate if your feminist heroine’s first case is one where she doesn’t solve much on her own.
And then there was the romance. And yes, it is a cozy-mystery. And the heroes and heroines of those usually end up with someone sooner or later. And I don’t object to a strong and independent female character ending up with a man. But for most of the book, Amelia doesn’t just say that a woman of her age is unlikely to find a husband and that she isn’t too desperate about that. She goes on and on about absolutely not needing one because men are inferior creatures and so on. Which is again unfortunate. Especially because I didn’t feel much chemistry between the two. There were some sparks but I couldn’t buy it going that fast. The romance would have really profited if it had been stretched out over a few books.
Now for the last unfortunate thing: this is a book about white people in Egypt at a time where most of them were very racist. It’s also about archeologists at a time where a lot of people saw archeology as ‘digging stuff up, put the pretty things on my shelf and throw the rest away’. And Amelia does start off with some not very complimentary attitudes towards the Egyptians. She also doesn’t say a word when a museum-director gifts her a necklace he dug up. Then Emmerson turns up and yells that racism is bad and that not cataloging artifacts is also bad and that’s the topic done with. Amelia more or less shrugs and goes ‘yeah, guess you have a point’ and then it’s never brought up again.
Of course, I’m not expecting a cozy to devote several chapters on the chapters discussing the evils of colonialism but I couldn’t help thinking of Think of England. Another book that was more on the fluffy and humorous side with a main character who held some racists views. These views get challenged over the course of the book and then he actually admits that he was wrong before. Meanwhile, Amelia is never wrong. Ever. And that is very tiring.
This is also part of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season
Book themes for Boxing Day/St. Stephen’s Day: Read anything where the main character has servants (paid servants count, NOT unpaid) or is working as a servant him-/ herself.