It was with much sorrow that I learned last week that Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels) died on August 8. This notice appeared soon after on the author’s website:
“Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters & Barbara Michaels) died peacefully at home early in the morning of Aug. 8, 2013. She had put up a very tough battle against cancer for over a decade, in a style worthy of Amelia. She preferred not to be fussed over, and so did not make her illness public. She died as she had told everyone she wanted to – unexpectedly, in her sleep. Shortly before her death, she had written a line to be posted on this webpage: “At 85, Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Michaels) is enjoying her cats, her garden, lots of chocolate, and not nearly enough gin.””
I never met Ms. Mertz, never saw her in person, but I’ll admit to having shed a few tears when I learned of her death. On Thursday evening I poured myself a whiskey and soda (one of Amelia Peabody’s favorite drinks) and began a reread of Crocodile on the Sandbank, the first in the Amelia Peabody series.
I was first introduced to Ms. Mertz’s books by my mother. During a semester break from college my mother handed me Ammie, Come Home by Barbara Michaels and told me I would like it, and I did indeed. It was also one of the scariest books I’d read up to that point, and stuck with me for years.
A few years later, while scouring a used book store, I found an old copy of Crocodile on the Sandbank by the author Elizabeth Peters (and I had no idea Elizabeth Peters was the same as Barbara Michaels). This was another case of staying up all night. I simply fell in love with the characters, the setting, and the author’s voice. But I read Crocodile before the internet, and had no idea it was the first in what was to become a lengthy series. As I wrote in my DIK review here (my A review for applying to be an AAR reviewer):
I first read Crocodile on the Sandbank more than 20 years ago, and fell in love with Amelia Peabody, Emerson, and the rest of the gang. I’ve thought fondly of the book ever since, but managed to forget the title and the author. Finally, in 2002 I did some searches on the web and discovered not only the author’s name – Elizabeth Peters – but also the fact that the book is just the first in a long series featuring Amelia and Emerson.
After learning Crocodile was the first in a series I headed to the closest bookstore and picked up a new copy of it, as well as the next three in the series. Within a week I was back at the bookstore buying additional books in the series. When I finally caught up, I was in a panic: how could I wait months for the next book to come out? I searched for the release date of the next entry, marked it on my calendar, and was soon counting down the days. On the day the next entry was released, I headed for the Borders closest to my office at lunch, picked up the book, and began reading in a nearby café. I thought about taking the afternoon off but managed to restrain myself. But it was a long four hours until I could head home and finish the book. And yes, I finished it that night, meaning I then had at least 12 months until the next entry!
Thus began a tradition. Each year I would hit a bookstore the day the next Amelia book was released. And each time I would stay up late, sucked once again into Amelia Peabody’s world. Reading each new book was like visiting old friends. I knew that each book would provide me with a lot of laughs, and at times a few tears. The series also encouraged me to try other mystery writers, for which I’ll always be grateful.
I haven’t read either of Ms. Mertz’s non-fiction works on Egypt, but hope to locate copies soon. I’m curious to see what her non-fiction voice is like. Thanks to some AAR readers I’ve read and enjoyed Ms. Peters’ Vicky Bliss mystery series. I’ve read one of her Jaqueline Kirby series and intend to pick up the rest soon. But no matter how much I enjoy her other books, my favorites will always be the Amelia Peabody mysteries.
One of my favorite lines in Crocodile toward the end of the book is when Emerson tells Peabody:
“Archaeology is a fascinating pursuit, but after all, one cannot work day and night…Peabody, my darling Peabody – what a perfectly splendid time we are going to have!”
And what a splendid time they did have over the course of the series, and what a splendid time they gave me as a reader. Thank you, Ms. Mertz!
– LinnieGayl Kimmel