Who doesn't enjoy Dame Agatha Christie?
Genreflecting 7 is here!

Fiction Interlude: Crocodile on the Sandbank

Crocodile on the Sandbank
by Elizabeth Peters


It seemed only fitting, after posting about mystery author extraordinaire Agatha Christie, that I talk about another mystery that I just read (during my period of floundering to find good nonfiction).

If I'm going to read fiction, largely, I prefer it to be of the mainstream-y, Anne Tyler-ish variety. Not quite literary fiction, but not quite women's fiction a la Jodi Picoult, either. But every now and then I will make forays further afield, into genre, and if I do, that genre tends to be mystery. Although I do not currently work in a library, it's always in the back of my mind that I should develop better knowledge of some genres and their authors, so when I read mysteries, at least I can feel that I am somehow "keeping up with my profession." If that makes any sense.

One author I'd always wanted to try was Elizabeth Peters, best known for her Amelia Peabody mysteries. I read the first one in the series, Crocodile on the Sandbank, which was published in 1975 (while the nineteenth book in the series, Tomb of the Golden Bird, was published in 2006). One lovely thing about any kind of historical fiction is that the publication date doesn't seem to matter as much. Set in the late Victorian period, the book features the feisty heroine Amelia Peabody, who, at 32, is considered to be an old maid--but she doesn't let that stop her, once she inherits her father's fortune, from going off to see the world. She ends up in Egypt, traveling with a new friend, and embroiled in an archaeological mystery (which just happens to include a stubborn bachelor archaeologist--gee, what happens?). I suppose I could describe the plot further, but I don't think the plot is the point, really. If you like feisty heroines, and have any interest whatsoever in Egyptology, then you might enjoy this:

"I was left, then, to be the prop of my father's declining years. As I have said, the life suited me. It allowed me to develop my talents for scholarship. But let not the Gentle Reader suppose that I was ill equipped for the practical necessities of life...

It came as no surprise to anyone to discover that he [the father] had left his property to me, the aforesaid prop, and the only one of his children who had not an income of its own. My brothers accepted this tolerantly, as they had accepted my devoted service to Papa. They did not explode until they learned that the property was not a paltry sum, but a forture of half a million pounds. They had made a common mistake in assuming that an absentminded scholar is necessarily a fool..." (p. 3.)

So yeah, I liked old Amelia. And I enjoyed the book. I don't know that I need to read eighteen more of them, and I don't think she's up to the caliber of Agatha Christie, but you could do a lot worse if you're looking for a historical mystery with an exotic setting and just a dash of romance.