Thursday, August 11, 2016

Elizabeth Peters' Laughing Mummy Case

By this book we’ve established that British socialite turn Egyptologist, Amelia Peabody, is a wife and mother.  A series told in her first-person narrative, it's clear this life change is an adjustment of sorts.  Especially from the solitary life she led in the first book.  Now Amelia, her husband Radcliffe, and their four-year-old son heighten the thrill of her adventures.  As well as comedy.
As for the third book, The Mummy Case, Amelia’s infamous archaeologist and Egyptologist husband has been invited to a pyramid excavation.  Or, to be clear, he’s prompted dispatched to sniffle among the rubble of an abandoned excavation.  Somewhat at arms length, archaeologist in his profession never really wants him around.  He’s known as the “Father of Curses,” and is thus better left on the outskirts of any great discovery.  
Angered by this, Amelia’s husband decides to take on the "rubble" task anyway.  Gathering his wife and son, he ships his family out of England and into Egypt.  There may be nothing in and on this barren excavation handed to him, but he’ll make do to prove something to the rejecters of his talents as an archaeologist.  He has his pride and dignity after all, as well as a crew of shaky–but fiercely loyal–crewmen.  
But matters get choppy when his wife starts snooping around the crime scene of an antiques dealer she recently visited, for a scrap of papyrus.  Then an excavated Mummy case goes missing.  A suspicious Christian fellowship begins banning citizens together in the nearby village, but with their own secrets of abuse to hide.  An equally suspicious gang made up of Egyptian men are boiling for a fight to kick the fellowship out of their village.  And, eventually, Emerson, Amelia, and Ramses find themselves buried in the well of a pyramid.  While a killer runs loose covering his tracks.
Sounds like a lot, right?  Well, it’s an adventure that shouldn’t be missed!

Humor OVER Mystery
I don’t think anyone (once read) can deny how humorous Elizabeth Peters writes.  Particularly noticing how remarkable her dialogue is.  And that’s under spoken.  But whether it’s Amelia versus Emerson (which makes up the best pieces), Amelia versus Ramses, or Emerson versus whoever else; Peters writes some of the wittiest of banter that I’ve ever had the pleasure of indulging myself with.  While, of course, dropping the book to roll over in belly laughs.  Peters is probably tied with Martha Grimes in this arena, though Grimes‘ flair is a lot more contemporary.  Still, Peters gives the girls and boys of the land some of that old late, 19th century British aristocratic taste of shade.  But both writers serve it classy and icy.  
But Peters fills her characters’ dialogue (and Amelia's exposition) with so much sub-text that, if you’re not attentive, it’ll fly right over your head.  Some of it is stronger than others–or corny versus superbly clever.  However, no character seemed to speak mis-directly in The Mummy Case.  Meaning, damn it all, there’s a purpose to every statement closed with a period, exclamation, or question delivered.  Whether you get it or not.
The book (and series) is pure Victorian era shadiness.  And you'll be deciphering her sub-text as well as the clues and red herrings thrown your way via the mystery element.  Yet, her humorous characters and their wild circumstances will carry you through the up-and-down unfolding of the mystery.  Which, unfortunately, isn’t as memorable as Peters’ comedic scenes and wit.
Amelia & Religion
"The sun rose higher and perspiration trickled down my back.  The singing went on and on, the same monotonous tune repeated interminably.  It was finally succeeded by the voice of Brother Ezekiel.  I could hear him quite well.  He prayed for the elect and for those still in the darkness of false belief (every inhabitant of the globe except the members of the Church of the Holy Jerusalem).  I thought he would never stop praying.  Eventually he did, and the congregation began to emerge."
Amelia & Emerson
"I raised a hand to silence him, for John had returned, carrying a bowl of brussels sprouts and beaming like the sun over the pyramids of Giza.  'You have made your point, Emerson.  I confess that problem had not occured to me.'
"'Had it not?' The intensity of Emerson's gaze increased.  'Perhaps I had better remind you, then.'
"And he did, later that evening, in a most effective manner." 
"'Oh, the usual thing, Peabody.  I don't believe any of the men were directly involved in the robbery, but they must have been bribed to remain silent.  An object the size of that mummy case could not have been removed from the salon without waking someone.'
"'Bribed–or intimidated?  I sense the sinister shadow of the Master Criminal, Emerson.  How far his evil web must stretch!'
"'I warn you, Peabody, I will not be responsible if you go on talking of webs and shadows and Master Criminals.  This is a case of sordid, commonplace thievery.  It can have no connection–'
"'Like a giant spider weaving his tangled strands into a net that snares rich and poor, guilty and innocent–'
"Emerson leaped onto his donkey and urged it into a trot."
Amelia & Emerson & Ramses
"'I examined dem carefully, Mama,' Ramses said consolingly.  'De body was unclot'ed.  It had been dead for several days.  Dere were no marks upon it except for extensive bruising around de neck.  A rope tied tightly about dat part of de anatomy may have accounted for some of de contusions, but it is my opinion dat manual strangulation was de cause of deat'.'
"'Very good, Ramses,' I said.  'What steps have you taken, Emerson?'
"'I have sent for the local chief of police.'
"'Good.  If you will excuse me, I will go and change my clothes.'
"As I left I heard Ramses say, 'May I remark, Papa, da alt'ough your consideration for my sensitivities was quite unnecessary, I am not wit'out a proper appreciation of de sentiment dat prompted it.'" 

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