Amelia Peabody is an independent woman of means with a love of history and a desire to travel, so she decides to use her wealth to fund a trip to Egypt. In spite of her disdain for Victorian conventions, Amelia decides to take along a companion, but when the woman falls ill in Rome on the way there, she sends her home. While out shopping, Amelia comes upon an unconscious young woman on the street. She recognizes her as a fellow Englishwoman, and since no one else seems to be helping her, Amelia takes charge, bringing the lady back to her hotel and nursing her back to health. The woman's name is Evelyn Barton-Forbes, the granddaughter of a wealthy earl, and she readily confesses that she had an affair, was disowned by her grandfather and abandoned by her lover, which is what led to her current predicament. Amelia could care less about Evelyn's past, and hires her as her new traveling companion. As they journey on to Cairo and all the spectacular sights that await, Amelia and Evelyn become fast friends.
Once in Egypt, the pair chance to meet the Emerson brothers, Radcliffe and Walter, two archaeologists who are busily working to unearth the ancient treasures of Egypt. Radcliffe and Amelia don't exactly get off on the right foot, but Walter and Evelyn take to each other immediately. Then Evelyn's former lover coincidentally appears, as does her cousin, Lucas, with a surprise marriage proposal. Evelyn is distressed by both, and with the Emerson brothers having already left for their dig site, the ladies decide to continue their sight-seeing right away with a trip up the Nile. When Amelia and Evelyn stop at the ruins of the ancient city of Amarna, they find a very agitated Walter there. It seems that Radcliffe has come down with a dangerous fever. Amelia has brought medicines with her, and so the two ladies stay for a while nursing Radcliffe back to health. Not long after they arrive, a mummy is found in a nearby tomb, but it disappears from their camp a short while later, only to be replaced by mysterious nightly visits from an animated look-alike. Then Lucas shows up insisting upon helping to catch the culprit while continuing his attempts to woo Evelyn. At first it seems that someone with an ax to grind may be trying to shut down the Emerson brothers' dig, but the occurrence of a suspicious accident, the disappearance of a trusted servant, and a kidnapping gone awry, make Amelia think that someone may be trying to harm her dear friend, Evelyn, instead.
It has been many years since I've read a mystery story, and I wasn't quite sure if I would still like them as much as I had in my youth. Either I do, or I simply chose the right book with which to renew that genre interest, because I found Crocodile on the Sandbank to be an enjoyable read. It reminded me of a cross between Indiana Jones and a younger version of Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher (I loved Murder, She Wrote when I was a kid), or perhaps a more mature version of the Nancy Drew books that I was crazy about in my tweens/teens, only in a more exotic location. Crocodile on the Sandbank, and the entire Amelia Peabody series, fall into the cozy mystery genre as they are very gentle mysteries that aren't particularly frightening and don't have any objectionable elements. Even more mature content like Evelyn's affair is merely alluded to and never spelled out in so many words. This made for some fun, old-fashioned sleuthing that is, in my opinion, appropriate for mystery aficionados of all ages, although the advanced vocabulary and authenticity of the historical voice would probably be more suited for teen and adult readers. Elizabeth Peters began writing the Amelia Peabody series in the 1970s, and had I heard of it back then, I may have been reading them as a teen.
Amelia was a fun character to read about. She is a firmly on-the-shelf spinster who has no intentions of marrying and an independent woman of means, so she decides to indulge her passion for history and her dream of traveling by going on a trip to Egypt. Amelia is an unflappable, no-nonsense woman with a plucky, adventurous spirit and a very straight-forward way of dealing with life. This forthright nature was very much in evidence in the first question that she asked Evelyn after her friend confessed to having had an affair. Somehow, it didn't really surprise me, but it did make me laugh nonetheless. Amelia is also a feminist who has little use for the traditional Victorian conventions, and sometimes wishes she had been born a man, so that she would be more respected. Even though Amelia is very much a thinker and a scholar, it is obvious that she has a very kind heart and a willingness to help others. She is quite skilled in medical matters and assists many people along the way who are sick or injured which always seems to help put her in their good graces. She is also the consummate matchmaker when she realizes that Evelyn has fallen in love. I found it interesting and amusing that Amelia immediately recognized Evelyn's love for Walter, but when she started falling for Emerson, she didn't initially discern it as the same emotion in herself. All in all, I really admired Amelia, and a part of me would love to be her, but in reality, I'm probably much closer in personality to Evelyn.
Crocodile on the Sandbank is told in first-person perspective with Amelia, of course, as the narrator. It is written in a slightly different style than other first-person books that I have read, so it took me a little while to get used to it. For me, the reading of the book was rather like sitting down to tea with Amelia while listening as she related her story. It had a rather quaint, intimate feel to it. The book takes a "just-the-facts" approach and is a little light on descriptive details of the environment. In fact, early in the story, Amelia comments that she will not indulge in such descriptions so as not to bore the reader, and if the reader wants more detail, they should go read a travelogue. Normally, this would be a downside for me, because I tend to enjoy lush, vivid depictions of the setting, but for the most part, enough information was given to make me feel like I was in the hot sands of the Egyptian desert with Amelia. There are also not a lot of deep insights into the secondary characters. The reader really only gets to know them through Amelia's eyes. Even though I usually prefer to know the other characters' thoughts and feelings, I once again, for the most part, did not view this as a weakness as I normally would. I think this was owing in large part to the genre. Since the story is primarily about the mystery of a mummy stalker who appears to be trying to scare them away from their archaeological dig site, rather than the relationships, I didn't necessarily feel a burning need to get inside the other characters' heads like I would if it were a romance.
As things were, I got to know the other characters well enough. I liked Amelia's friend, Evelyn. She is a sweet, and perhaps slightly naïve, young woman who allowed herself to be seduced by a scoundrel which ruined her relationship with her grandfather and left her destitute. Amelia rescues her off the street and hires her as a companion for her trip. On the outside, Evelyn seems very delicate, but on the inside she is made of much sterner stuff than one might think at first glance, and in spite of her indiscretion, she has a certain strength of character as well. I adored Evelyn's love interest, Walter, the more charming and amiable of the two Emerson brothers, a team of archaeologists who are working to unearth the history and treasures of Egypt. If he were one of my romance heroes, he'd be the sweet beta who gets all moony-eyed over his lady love, but can't quite bring himself to declare his feelings. Yet, when he finally does (at Amelia's prodding), it was in the most romantic way possible, giving me a major, "Awwwww!" moment. Then there is Emerson. Actually his name is Radcliffe, but Amelia never calls him by his first name. It's OK though, because he always call her Peabody instead of Amelia too. If Walter is the romantic beta, Emerson is the alpha. He's rude and abrasive, rarely having anything nice to say about anyone, and he gets under Amelia's skin in more ways than one right from the moment they meet. Although Emerson certainly tries his best, Amelia never allows him to run rough-shod over her, instead giving back as good as she gets whenever he let the insults fly which made for some fun bantering. Even though he could be a real bear sometimes, I liked that Emerson's heart was in the right place when it came to the preservation and proper study of the antiquities that were being treated with flippancy even by the government agency that was supposed to be protecting them. Other than the antiquities though, Emerson could seem pretty cold and indifferent at times, so it took me a while to really warm up to him. When he finally started to reveal his feelings, it was worth the wait.
Aside from the colorful characters, Crocodile on the Sandbank had a fun plot. In fact, I waffled a bit on my star rating, and the only thing that really prevented it from earning keeper status from me was that the pacing is a little too slow in places. Especially during the first half of the book, there are several long passages of narration where there isn't much excitement or action. There are also a couple of passages where a secondary character goes off into what is essentially a soliloquy of narration. Preferring a more liberal mixture of narrative and dialog, I found these passages to be a bit too sluggish for my taste, leaving my mind occasionally wandering. Once the mystery portion of the story really got going, I thoroughly enjoyed the action, adventure and intrigue, as well as trying to figure out the answer to the puzzle. I did correctly discern the culprit and their motive (although not all the details of "how") before it was revealed, but it didn't detract from the fun of getting there, as I ended up second guessing myself more than once. Overall, the narrative built very nicely to an exciting conclusion. Anyone who enjoys a good mystery/adventure yarn with a plucky heroine, an exotic setting and a dash of romance, should like this book. Crocodile on the Sandbank is the first of the Amelia Peabody series, and my first read by Elizabeth Peters. I found it to be a nice departure from my usual romance fare that has left me looking forward to trying the next book in the series when I'm, once again, in the mood for something different. There are currently 18 books in the Amelia Peabody series. A complete list of all the books and their recommended reading order can be found on the official Amelia Peabody website.
The Hope Chest Reviews on Facebook