Elizabeth Peters


The third book in the Vicky Bliss mystery series. This time John Smythe lures Vicky to Stockholm looking for Nordic treasure.

Publication year: 1983
Format: print
Page count: 296
Publisher: Avon Books

Three years after the end of the previous book Vicky gets an anonymous note which can only be from John. It contains one rose, a one-way ticket to Stockholm, a reservation for a night in a cheap hotel, and a cryptic note: Wielandia Fabrica. Vicky wants to get away from the miserable rain in Munich, so she travels to Sweden. Her boss grumbles, mainly because he wants her to continue the erotica book she’s writing, but lets her go. There, she feels right at home: she’s always felt out of place everywhere because she’s tall, blond, and beautiful. In Sweden, she’s surrounded by other tall and blond people.

However, one tall and blond man, Leif, acts very suspiciously even though Vicky enjoys his company. John is quite elusive, using several amusing disguises and just tries to get Vicky to return home. Instead she accepts an invitation from a distant cousin Gus Johnson. He’s an elderly gentleman and appears to be in danger so Vicky wants to warn him. However, she’s not the only one who travels to Gus’s small island home.

This was a very entertaining book. I’m not sure if the plot made any sense but it moved fast and was a lot of fun. Most the characters are new and they were entertaining, too. We also got to know stuff about Sweden’s history and art, which was great.

The second book in the Vicky Bliss mystery series.

Publication year: 1978
Format: print
Page count: 357+ an excerpt of He Shall Thunder in the Sky
Publisher: Avon Books

Vicky Bliss works for Professor Schmidt at the Munich National Museum. He also adores her. Schmidt comes across a forgery which even he can’t prove isn’t the real deal, except that the original Charlemagne talisman is part of the Museum’s collection. Vicky realizes she can do two things at once: she convinces her boss easily that she can look into a possible forgery ring and get a paid vacation while doing it. The replica was found in a dead man’s pocket and the police can’t find any information about him. However, the corpse had also a small strange slip of paper which Vicky thinks means the Street of Five Moons, in Rome.

So she heads to Rome. She thinks she’ll do a little investigating and just enjoy her new expense account the rest of the time. However, her hunch turns out to be correct and soon she’s trying to figure out who is the master criminal behind everything.

This was a fun and fast read. Vicky is a delightful first person narrator, even though she isn’t as clever as she likes to think. She has a doctorate in medieval art and the book is filled with references to art. I really enjoyed that. Rome was also a great setting!

The secondary characters are all new. Fairly quickly Vicky wraps the eccentric Count Caravaggio around her little finger and gets invited to his palace, so we get to know his plump and pretty mistress, aged mother, and gorgeous son who likes to paint but don’t have the talent. Vicky suspects them all at one point or another. Also, the count has a secretary, the charming and frustrating Sir John Smythe whom Vicky suspects most of all. The whole cast is fun and I quite enjoyed Smythe’s and Vicky’s snarky exchanges.

The plot is fast-paced. Vicky is clearly narrating this at some point later because a few times she points out “if only I’d known then what I know now”. They didn’t bother me, though. I’m a fan of Peters’ Amelia Peabody series and I think she uses a similar style there.

The first book in the Vicky Bliss mystery series

Publication year: 1973
Page count: 244
Format: print
Publisher: Robinson

Vicky Bliss is a history teacher in a small Mid-western collage. When she finds out that a famous sixteenth century German woodcarver might have left behind an unknown masterpiece, she travels to Germany to find it. However, her obnoxious colleague and lover Tony Lawrence has the same clues and he challenges Vicki to a battle between the sexes. Vicki takes up the challenge, of course, and a third competitor joins the race: George Nolan who is a rich art collector and almost as arrogant as Tony. They all travel to Germany, separately, to the small old town where they think the carved alter is. They get rooms in the Drachenstein castle which has been changed into a hotel. However, the altar isn’t easy to find and they get involved in local trouble – which seems to include a ghost.

Vicky Bliss was born with genes which made her tall, voluptuous, and blond. She’s also got a degree in history but nobody takes her seriously because of her looks. She would like nothing else than to look like a traditional heroine: short, dark, and delicate. So, she’s sworn off marriage. She’s also adventurous, determined, smart, and independent. However, her lover at the start of the book, Tony, instantly declared that he wants to marry her and don’t care what she thinks. He’s also very competitive and yet has a fragile ego which Vicky has to nurse. I was hoping that Tony would be the murder victim promised on the cover, but no such luck. In fact, while this book is a mystery, there’s no current day murder so solve.

Since I’m a fan of Peters’ other series, I couldn’t help myself but to compare this book with the Amelia Peabody books. In fact, Vicky and Amelia have a lot in common being independent and smart women who have to put up with arrogant and overbearing men. However, Tony is a far cry from Emerson: Tone just doesn’t have the same charisma at all.

Vicky, Tony, and George are looking for the altar in Rothenburg. I loved the descriptions of the small town and if I had money, I’d be tempted to visit it. The woodcarver Riemenschneider was a real person and his carvings can be seen today. As far as I can tell, all the historical details in the story are correct and I love that. The trio wanders through the old castle looking for clues and find secret passageways and underground rooms! The setting and the background to the story were really appealing to me. However, especially in the beginning there are long passages about historical events which might be boring people who are less interested in history. Unfortunately, the plot is quite simple and there aren’t many suspects.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really care for Tony or Vicky’s second romantic interest; they’re far too arrogant and yet they tend to hog the scenes. The rest of the cast were more interesting. The old countess who runs the castle/hotel is a tough woman who ruthlessly exploits her young niece who does pretty much all of the work. The niece is beautiful and Tony immediately wants to help her.

A fun, quick read but a bit too predictable.

The fifteenth book in the Amelia Peabody series. I listened an abridged audio.

Page count: 480
Publication year: 2004
Format: Audio (abridged)
Narrator: Barbara Rosenblat

Once again the Emersons gather in their house in Egypt, only this time there will be more Emersons than ever before. In addition to Amelia and Emerson, their son Ramses and his wife, there are also their two year old twins. Later they would be joined by Emerson’s brother Walter and his wife Evelyn, who have been barely glimpsed in many, many books, their daughter Lia and her husband David, and their young child. The cast includes, of course, also the local familiar people: Daoud, Selim, and the other locals, as well as the Vandergelts.

In the previous book, the Vandergelts found a rich tomb which has been cataloged and repaired. An agent from the Cairo Museum comes to see it in order to claim some of it to the Museum. Unfortunately after the agent leaves, the restorer Monsieur Martinelli disappears with some of the richest artifacts. Cyrus is beside himself and the Emersons promise to help him.

Later, they stumble upon a young man who suffers from epileptic fits and Ramses is trapped by a woman who claims to be the goddess Hathor. Hilarity ensues and shirts are ruined.

I enjoyed the reappearance of Walter and Evelyn whom I’ve missed earlier and the rest of the cast are like old friends.

Perhaps this book doesn’t have as much humor as the previous ones. Still, Amelia leads the investigation even though it doesn’t need as many disguises as some previous adventures. The men fuss over Emerson’s car rather amusingly.

However, the mystery is again a bit on the light side and there aren’t many suspects to begin with.

I quite liked the audiobook but I have a strong suspicion that it has been liberally edited. Namely, some of the reviewers at Amazon moan that there’s too much focus on the babies and not enough humor. In the abridged version, the kids are barely mentioned, and when I looked at the few pages available online, my suspicions were confirmed: right from the start, the lines and paragraphs dealing with the little kids have been heavily edited out. I haven’t read the original text, but this worked for me.

Oh and please don’t start the series with this book!

The fourteenth book in the Amelia Peabody series where she confronts nasty villains armed with her trusty parasol.

Publication year: 2003
Format: Audio
Publisher: Avon

The year 1917 has just started. The First World War is still raging but the Emersons and their entourage are traveling to Egypt. This time they are staying indefinitely because traveling between England and Egypt has become too dangerous. The Emersons are bringing with them their niece Sennia and their butler Gargary. This year, the Emersons have the permission to excavate in Luxor.

They have barely just started to settle into their house when things start to happen. First, Emerson’s half brother makes appearance in disguise and disappears swiftly, enraging Emerson. Then, they hear that tomb robbers have found a new, rich tomb. The Emersons’ old friends, the Vandergelts, managed to buy an object that seems to prove that a Queen’s tomb has indeed been found. Naturally, the Emersons’ want to save the tomb from the robbers.

However, they have to also deal with the fall-out from the problems they had the previous year. Jamala and her villainous brother Jamil return from the previous book. The man threatens to kill Ramses and Jamala is in a bad position. Her father has disowned her because she wants a life of her own and the Vandergelts are training her to become an Egyptologist. Her brother is also in contact with her and she feels that she has to protect him. Yet, she owes loyalty to the Emersons and the Vangerdelts, too. Also, Bertie seems to be smitten with her.

Meanwhile, the Army has again a dangerous mission to Ramses and his wife and parents aren’t happy about it.

Peters is in a fine form here. The book has a lot of humor, adventure, and mysteries. However, the mysteries surrounding the tomb take a back seat to Ramses’ adventures during the middle of the book. The book is again divided between Amelia’s first-person memoirs and document H which Ramses and his wife have written in third person.

The familiar cast of characters includes the Egyptian workers, Sethos, Vandergelts, and Catherine’s son Bertie, who was injured in the war. David and Lia don’t appear. There are some new characters as well, such as the Albions who are an American family who are out to “collect antiques” or rather rob everything they want which, of course, enrages Emerson.

There’s some Victorian double standards which Amelia and Nefret hold up; an (unmarried) woman shouldn’t be alone with a man or she gets what she’s asking for. On the other hand, I’m really surprised that this sort of teaching isn’t included in the Islamic upbringing that Jamala has. Or perhaps in Islamic culture, young women aren’t ever alone with young men, so there no need to tell women not to do it. Anyway, I found Jamala a bit too naïve for her own good but that apparently tended to be the norm with Victorian girls.

Overall, I enjoyed the book a great deal. The Americans were great foils to Emerson and even Ramses’ adventures were quite humorous and preposterous. (For me, his previous efforts in the war were a bit too serious with all the torture and arms dealing.) Also, courtship romance took a back seat to adventure.

I guess I must admit that I did listen to an abridged version.

The story is set in 1915-16 and the First World War is still raging. The narrative is split between Amelia’s first person diary and the manuscript H which Ramses and Nefret have apparently written about their exploits in the third person. There are also some letters.

The story starts in England where the Emersons are fretting about the war which is not only killing young men but also making in harder to travel to Egypt. They try to leave one of their newest additions to the family, the six-year old girl Sennia, to England but don’t succeed. Their butler Gargary also manages to smuggle himself on board the ship to Egypt.

In Cairo, the Emersons encounter an old acquaintance, the journalist Miss Minton who somewhat resembles Amelia. Miss Minton is determined to get useful information out of the Emersons. Then, Ramses is attacked. His parents and Nefret want to protect him. So, when they hear about outrageous archeological thefts in Luxor, Ramses and Nefret take the leisurely boat ride there. Shortly after the young couple leaves, Amelia and Emerson find a fresh corpse from their dig.

As usual, the characters and the setting are entertaining. Unfortunately, the book didn’t really bring anything new to the series. Indeed, the return of one particular character was sort of a disappointment to me. Even though the character is witty and charming (like the rest of the cast), I was hoping for someone new to replace them or perhaps a new direction entirely. Much of the book is also based on romance; Amelia and Emerson, of course, the newlyweds Nefret and Ramses, and in addition not one but two other romantic pairs. In the end, there wasn’t much room for mystery which didn’t pick up until near the end.

There were a couple of new characters: Jamala and her brother Jamil. They are part of Abdullah’s extended family. Jamala is a bright and ambitious Muslim girl who is trying to escape her usual fate. I certainly hope she succeeds. Of course, since she’s already caught the interest of Nefret and Amelia, I’d be very surprised if she didn’t. Her brother was disappointingly predictable.

Again, a treat for those looking for romance and familiar characters and places.

Also, please, don’t start reading the series with this book!

This time Ramses Emerson gets involved in international spying effort while making girls of all ages swoon left and right.

The long-suffering editor has once again added Nefret’s letters and snippets of Ramses’ manuscript in the third person in the middle of Amelia’s first-person narrative.

The book starts with a brief prologue where a young boy sees a woman and a boy walking among snow. The boy’s step-mother refuses to help them and instead tells the boy that the woman in the snow was his dead father’s mistress. The boy is still determined to help them but his stepmother locks him in.

The main story is set in 1914-15 in the middle of World War I which affects not only the characters but the atmosphere as well. Women are giving white feathers of cowardice to young men who aren’t in uniform. Ramses refuses emphatically to take part in the war and has gathered quite a few of them. His best friend David has been arrested and his young wife, the Emersons’ niece Lia, is pregnant. Cairo is under martial law and many people are suspiciously looking for enemy spies even among their friends. Amelia is convinced that the Master Criminal is enjoying such a paranoid atmosphere. Meanwhile, Emerson has been given license to excavate in Giza and is determined not to let mere war stand in his way. Nefret is now a doctor and runs a clinic for Cairo’s prostitutes.

However, Ramses turns out to be a secret agent for the British Intelligence. This, of course, means that he must use a variety of disguises when he talks with the criminals of Cairo and play a role even when he looks like himself. He does his best to keep his activities a secret from his parents and Nefret. His cousin and childhood nemesis Percy Peabody is also in Cairo and is trying his best to get his revenge on Ramses.

This book ties up many loose threads from the previous books. Almost all of the familiar characters return which is always a delight, and the book is as full of humor and snappy dialogue as the previous books. Parts of the book are quite depressing: Evelyn and Walter’s sons are serving in the war and so always in danger, the arms dealings that Ramses is trying to solve, and the general gloomy atmosphere during the war. Ramses’ disguises seem a deliberate effort to bring humor to the book.

The focus is now firmly on Ramses, and his parents (whom I like more than Ramses) are only sidekicks in his exciting adventures. Egyptology is also a subplot at best.

However, there’s a scene between Amelia and Ramses which stopped me from continuing for awhile. She tells him that when a woman says “no”, she means “yes”. Unless I’m reading this wrong:

“And without wishing in any way to condone the usage of physical force there are times a woman may secretly wish… Let me think how to put this. She may hope that that the strength of a gentleman’s affection for her will cause him to… forget his manners.”

Is she really saying that Ramses should just rape Nefret? Oh, Amelia, no!

This is apparently the last Peabody audiobook on Audible which is available for us non-USAsians. Strangely enough, the Finnish library system has a few copies but the name of the book was apparently too weird for the poor librarians because is our system the book’s name is “Thunder in the Sky”.

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