Both my wife and I have been great fans of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series of stories. So I was looking forward to dipping into one of the novels in this series but found myself less than engaged.
It’s not the problem of the story. Vicky Bliss, an assistant curator in the Munich National Museum is enlisted as a fill-in lecturer on a Nile cruise because of her crime-solving capabilities. There has been a murder and inklings of a heist of Egyptian antiquities. On the boat she encounters her own partner in adventure, here known as John Tregarth, but who has worked under various aliases as an art thief. He and Vicki have apparently survived numerous scrapes and developed a love interest. This explains the deep shock she experiences when John is accompanied by his mother and his new bride, Mary.
More murders and narrow escapes follow in this mystery as Vicky discovers that the object is nothing less than the theft of the tomb of Tetisheri in its entirety. Some she thinks fowl turn out to be fair, and others who seem fair, end up fowl. One of the fairest ends up the most sinister of all, and Vicky discovers how she has misjudged John. Action moves from the river cruise to a desperate flight across the desert to reach Luxor and Cairo. Vicky’s boss, Schmidt turns up and shows himself unexpectedly resourceful. [The night train to Memphis reflects an unexpected country music motif that runs through the mystery, as well as an actual train trip that was part of the climactic chase]. Yet John, Vicky, and their guide Feisal are up against criminals capable of bringing them to a harrowing end.
While I enjoyed the story, I found the central characters unattractive. Vicky strikes me as both highly capable and yet self-absorbed. John is more the figure one encounters in an espionage novel–living in a land of shades of gray, sometimes caring, sometimes ruthless, and ever the thief. The character I most enjoyed was Schmidt, who anyone would love to have as a friend. Vicky and John stood in sharp contrast, for me, to the admirable and interesting characters of Amelia and Emerson and Ramses in the Amelia Peabody stories.
I should mention that I was starting with number five in the series and I wondered whether this was part of the problem and whether I might have warmed up to these characters more had I followed them from the beginning, which I found important in the Amelia Peabody series. Peters’ story telling ability and the settings of her stories might incline me to pick up the first novel in the series to give these characters one more chance. Who knows, if I get back to number five, this novel, I might have a different take.