August 09, 2013

Parasols and Plots: A Readers' Advisory

Hello and welcome to a Buccaneers and Ball Gowns edition of "If I were a librarian." 

If I were a librarian (instead of an archivist) and you asked me to recommend something, I would start by finding out what genres of books you like to read. What's that you say? Mysteries? Well my friend, have I got the series for you! 

Amelia Peabody is a tenacious British Lady, who also happens to be an Egyptologist. At the turn of the century, a time when women's suffrage was starting to take hold, Amelia wears bloomers, leads expeditions, faces danger head on, and generally sets a rousing example for the ladies. Along with her husband Emerson (also an Egyptologist) and her precocious son Ramses, she gets up to all sorts of adventures that usually include "another dead body" every year. 

Could that be a skeptical look I see on your face? I know, I know, you are thinking this is just another cozy mystery series that is easy to read and predictable, but I promise you Amelia has much more to offer. Here are five reasons that this series stands out from all those others.

1. It is funny. I don't just mean it is cute or has some humor. It is witty, smart, and laugh out loud funny.

2. Our heroine is not a damsel in distress that happens to solve murders. Well, she is often in distress, but she  is also self-sufficient and independent. With her sword parasol and the extra sharp steel boning in her corsets  just waiting to be used as an escape tool, she is ready for anything. (I mean seriously people, a SWORD parasol. What girl doesn't want on of those?!)

3. These books may be a fairly quick read, but they are by no means simple. I learned many a vocab word while reading them. Example: Defenestration is the act of throwing someone out a window. A fact which I would not have known if Emerson didn't have such a quick temper.

4. Let's talk about archaeology for a minute. As Egyptologists the Emersons are often working on digs when they aren't solving murders. In the late 1800s and early 1900s many archaeologists were not exactly sticklers for proper method. Often what they called "archaeology" was akin to looting, and tomb robbing itself was also a major problem. The Emersons however, believe in doing things the right way which I think sets a good example. Admirably, many of the descriptions of  their excavations would hold up fairly well even to today's standards. History buffs might also be interested to note that along with the fictional ones, some of the characters, such as other archaeologists, are real historical figures.

5. I have three words for you. The. Master. Criminal. Every great protagonist needs a great antagonist and while there are plenty of flash in the pan criminals here, there is also the big one that becomes a major character throughout the series. The Master Criminal is all you want in a villain and more. He is the perfect nemesis for Amelia, but I do not want to give too much away so you will have to read the books to see what I mean!

6. So I know I said five, but this one is just me being biased so I put it as a bonus. Tea. As a Brit Amelia drinks tea and a lot of it. While she sometimes needs a sip of something a bit stiffer (whisky) after a close call or near miss, her genial beverage of choice is tea. Promoting tea is just the feather in the cap for these books in my opinion and you can look for my personal tea blends based on these characters, coming soon!

So if you like mystery, suspense, history, humor, or any combination those things, you should read these books. The first book is entitled Crocodile on the Sandbank, but there are nineteen books all together and an associated compendium, so you better get to reading!

Click on the image above for more information.

Edit: Although I had not yet published it, I had written this post about a week ago. However, I just found out that Barbara Mertz aka Elizabeth Peters (she wrote under several pseudonyms) died yesterday at the age of 85. Not only was she a great author, but like Amelia she was also an accomplished Egyptologist. She did both of these predominantly male dominated things during a time when it was unusual for a woman to do so, and did them well. She was an amazing woman and I just wanted to take this post script to say thank you to her. She will be missed.

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