Elizabeth Peters

Elizabeth Peters
Crocodile on the Sandbank

The rigid conventions of Victorian England—notoriously repressive to women—slow down Amelia Peabody not one whit. This “middle-aged spinster” thinks nothing of slashing a long skirt to create rationals (loose trousers), quaffing whiskey and soda in lieu of sherry, and whacking annoying people with her sturdy parasol. She is unfazed by the sight of blood, unflappable in emergencies, and accustomed to giving orders.

And when she inherits a comfortable sum, her sense of adventure propels her to make a voyage up the Nile on a dahabeeyah, a classic flat-bottomed boat that she has outfitted and staffed especially for the purpose.

Amelia quickly discovers she has a taste for unearthing antiquities, as do her companions: Evelyn, a penniless orphan she rescued on the streets of Rome; the “loud, arrogant, rude” archaeologist Emerson; and Emerson’s wimpy brother, Walter. Together the unlikely quartet face the usual perils to be expected in this part of the world—heatstroke, infection, cobras—as well as a few more sinister dangers: gunfire, abduction, and a melodramatic mummy that takes to stalking them, its dirty, half-wrapped bandages fluttering in the moonlight.

Amelia’s exchanges with Emerson echo the tenor of Hepburn-Tracy repartee. “If anyone murders you,” she says with asperity, “which seems quite likely, it will be in the heat of anger . . . I am only surprised it has not happened before this.”

Peters, herself an Egyptologist, brings an impressive authenticity to her material. She is clearly in love with the book’s subject and locale—an enthusiasm shared by her main character. A journey where she is “burned by the sun, rubbed raw by sand . . . bitten by snakes and mashed by falling rocks”? “I never had such a good time in all my life,” declares the doughty Amelia.

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