The Mummy Case (Amelia Peabody #3), by Elizabeth Peters
I can safely say that this book was at least as enjoyable to read as was the previous volume and therefore better than the first novel in the series, so I will likely be reading more of this particular series in the future. That said, readers of this series will hopefully be familiar with the general tone of the series as a whole, in that a great deal of time is spent looking at the family life of Amelia Peabody, with her gruff and somewhat bullying husband as well as her eminently punchable son Ramses, who makes his debut as a regular character here in this novel in a way that is likely to make him a somewhat annoying Wesley Crusher-type child within the series in future installments. Nevertheless, although there are flaws aplenty when it comes to the author’s approach and tone and the way that she deals with questions of culture and religion, where she shows herself a proponent of a leaden scientism that is tough to deal with and a believer in casual and unfortunate religious relativism, which shows its ugly head here and likely in other novels, this book at least has a crackling good plot and is therefore worthy of a couple of hours of one’s time at least if one has an interest in historical mysteries.
This particular story manages to focuses on one (or two) interesting Mummy cases that lead Amelia and her family and friends to deal with a very serious situation that has some humorous setup. As is common in this series, there is a long and complex setup that leads to a dramatic closing section that makes the novel worthwhile. Emerson delays submitting his proposal for the season’s digging and ends up in a rather undesirable location where there are some Roman-era graves and the platforms of some pyramids that have been lost to history, and so his own excavations are a bit of a letdown. However, he is next to an area where some Old Kingdom pyramids are being dug by a rival and this offers considerably more interest. When one deals with the rebelliousness of Ramses, who has adopted a strange manner of speaking that is rather irritating to read as well as the author’s unfortunately included dealings with a Christian personality cult that is driven mad by some gnostic writings not worth bothering about as well as some people pretending to be Copts and causing trouble for them, the author’s strengths are not always shown, at least until the dramatic closing showdown.
I must admit that so far at least I have found a great deal of mixed feelings about this particular series. As someone who finds Egyptology very fascinating, and as someone who generally likes historical mysteries, there is obviously something to appreciate here. And while the author frequently begins slowly and sets up a tale, she ends up being remarkably good at plotting her endings, which are suitably dramatic and violent and filled with mixed results while putting her characters in a high degree of peril that they come out from nevertheless. After enough of these troubles, the small and somewhat incestuous community of Egyptologists would be a bit loath to get too close to Peabody and her taste for attracting danger, one would think. Of course, there are plenty of negatives here. The author’s approach towards religion and her arrogant opinion regarding science is off-putting. Her sometimes strident feminism clashes badly with her casual contempt towards the local people of Egypt who are viewed as being unworthy of the greatness of ancient Egypt that the European and American professional archaeologists have to uncover, and there is of course the usual snobbery against Americans as well as against amateur archaeologists from the professional community, none of which comes off very well.