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Tag Archives: historical mystery

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters

Hello, everyone!  This spring, I continued my historical mystery reading spree with Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters.  This is the first book in a series set in Egypt during the Victorian era.  The main characters are English tourists and archaeologists.  The author has a Ph. D in Egyptology, and her love of the country and its history really come through in her descriptions of the sites the characters visit.

When Amelia Peabody inherits an unexpectedly large sum of money from her late father, she decides to travel to the sites of the ancient cultures she and her father studied.  She begins in Rome, where she meets Evelyn Barton-Forbes, a young noblewoman estranged from her family and currently living in poverty.  Amelia hires Evelyn to be her new companion and the two women continue on to Egypt, with plans to sail up the Nile and visit the usual Victorian Era tourist destinations.

Nile River

Nile River

Before leaving Cairo, they meet Walter and Emerson, two brothers conducting an archaeology dig.  Walter and Evelyn are immediately drawn to each other, while Amelia and Emerson’s strong personalities immediately clash.  The parties part ways, but soon meet again, when Walter interrupts the women’s progress towards Luxor, asking for help after a medical emergency at their archaeology dig.

Amelia Peabody is interested in medicine and believes she would have made a good doctor if she had been a man.  She happily agrees not only to provide medicine from her supplies, but also to help nurse Emerson back to health after his fever (despite his protests).  It soon becomes clear that there are other problems with the archaeology site.  The workers hired from a local village believe the site to be haunted, an idea which the English visitors initially dismiss, until they see the figure of a mummy walking near their campsite late one night.   The following morning, they discover that their excavation has been vandalized.  While they remain convinced that their problem is not supernatural, they need to discover who is pretending to haunt the site and why, before any more damage can be done.

This book was a wonderfully entertaining read.  The characters are well-drawn, and the way the four main personalities interact together is lots of fun!  Four strong-willed English visitors to Egypt make a very entertaining basis for a novel.  This book also reminded me that I have been meaning to read the travel memoir A Thousand Miles Up the Nile by Amelia B. Edwards, a real-life Victorian tourist to Egypt (and, I suspect, quite probably Amelia Peabody’s namesake)!  Consider it the first book on my summer reading list!

I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a good mystery series.  If you are interested in Egypt, travelling in general, or the Victorian Era, then you really shouldn’t miss it!  Between the humor and the great characters, I give this book four and a half stars.  I can’t wait to read more of the series!  ★★★★1/2

-Elizabeth

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidstanleytravel/8612400990/”>D-Stanley</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James

I also received a Jane Austen-themed book in my stocking this year, a mystery by P. D. James with characters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  People have recommended P. D. James to me before, so I was already interested in reading her books, and given my love of Pride and Prejudice, this was a perfect place to start!

This novel picks up several years after the ending of Pride and Prejudice.  The Darcys and Bingleys have settled down and started families, Elizabeth is now accepted by Mr. Darcy’s friends and neighbors (even Lady Catherine!), and everyone is gearing up for Pemberley’s biggest event of the season: Lady Anne’s ball.  Which brings us to the first problem: Lydia Wickham also wants to attend, but hasn’t been invited, so she decides to surprise her sister and brother-in-law by showing up the night before the ball.  Mr. Wickham still “is not received” at Pemberley, so he and his friend Denny decide to drop Lydia off, then continue on to a local inn.  Instead, Lydia arrives alone in the coach, hysterically insisting that Wickham has been murdered.  The Darcys and Bingleys know Lydia well enough to take this with a grain of salt.  However, when the coachman helps explain that Denny had stormed off into the Pemberley woods after an argument with Wickham, who followed him, and moments later they heard gunshots.  Darcy dutifully organizes a search party, and the men soon find Wickham drunkenly crying over Denny’s dead body.  Denny has been attacked, although not shot, and given the circumstances, Wickham is the only suspect.  But despite their low opinion of the man, no one at Pemberley really believes that Wickham would have murdered his best friend.

The odd thing about this book is that none of the main characters do any real detective work.  There is a mystery, but the characters and the reader sort of watch it unfold.  Of course, this does make sense from a realistic historical perspective.  Although Darcy in particular is very concerned about the outcome of the investigation, since the crime took place on his land and his brother-in-law is accused, he has to maintain some distance/impartiality.  He can get Wickham a lawyer, but not go searching through the woods for clues.  It is definitely a different approach to a mystery novel.  (And don’t worry, there is a solution at the end!)

The inscrutable Mr. Darcy is a difficult main character to work with and, although I was initially interested to read more from his point of view, I eventually concluded that it made the book less interesting.  It was nice to see the other characters from his perspective, but I really missed Elizabeth’s wit.  She is the main reason we love Pride and Prejudice so much, and I wanted to see more of her.  One character who does get more of a chance to shine, however, is Georgiana Darcy.  I also thought that James did an excellent job of summarizing what had become of most of the cast of P&P at the beginning of the book.  Her imagined futures for the different characters were well-chosen, true to Austen, and very fun to read.  I give this book three and a half stars.  If you are a fan of Austen or P. D. James, you should definitely consider reading it!  ★★★1/2

-Elizabeth

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

I started reading this book as soon as I left for Christmas vacation back home in California.  I look forward to reading mysteries during breaks from school, since it’s okay if I get caught up in a book and stay up late to finish it.  I have been meaning to read this one for awhile, since I have some other books by Jacqueline Winspear, and I wanted to see how the series started.  (I always like to read the first book of a series first, even if I’m not going to read the rest in order, because this is when most of the recurring characters are introduced.)

This is the first novel featuring “psychologist and investigator” Maisie Dobbs.  Since Winspear is setting up an entire series, the plot of this novel shifts between the mystery and Maisie’s own back story.  Maisie Dobbs has been working as an assistant to her mentor, Dr. Maurice Blanche, but when he retires, she opens her own practice.  Business is slow at first, but soon she is hired by a man who suspects his wife, Celia, is unfaithful.  When Maisie begins to investigate, she discovers that Celia Davenham is keeping a very different sort of secret from her husband.  She is haunted by a past romance and some tragic events which took place during the First World War.  Maisie, who served as a nurse during the war, finds the case brings up some painful memories of her own.

Two things set the Maisie Dobbs series apart from other mysteries: the 1920s setting and the detective’s psychological approach to solving mysteries.  This is not like other popular books (or tv shows or movies) set in the 1920s.  While extremely true to the era, Maisie Dobbs is definitely not a flapper.  However, her story is a different illustration of the increased freedoms for women in the 20s: she is a well-educated career woman and new business owner, and her approach to psychology and crime-solving would definitely be considered avant garde by contemporaries from the time period.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes mysteries or historical fiction, and especially to anyone interested in the 1920s!  Downton Abbey and Great Gatsby fans, I’m looking at you: this book is a great way to get a different perspective on an interesting time period!  I borrowed this book through my local library’s collection of online media (check out my post on how to download ebooks from your local library here), but Maisie Dobbs is finally coming out in paperback this June, so keep an eye out for it!  I give this book four stars-it is an entertaining read, and I already have the next two in the series!  ★★★★

-Elizabeth