Crocodile on the Sandbank


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Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters.

I remember being attracted by the title and cover art of one of Peters’ Amelia Peabody novels about fifteen years ago, and then passing it over once I had determined that it was a piece of mystery fiction without any occultist or hermetic features. But I have since discovered my own interest as a reader in straightforward mystery-adventure set in Victorian Egypt, with an acerbic intellectual woman as the protagonist.

The plot of this first of the Peabody stories is very much of the old-style “Scooby Doo” sort: no murder or theft has been disclosed, and the central puzzle is who should be going to the bother of staging a series of mishaps and ghostly hauntings, and why? The mystery element wasn’t very astounding; I had puzzled out its broad outlines before the end, but that didn’t in any way flatten the pleasure of the read.

Despite the rapid pace of the plot, the characters are well-delineated and entertaining. Having just read a novel by the late-Victorian Ada Leverson, and with a fair amount of other past reading in the period, I can attest that Peters gets the narrative voice of Peabody just right for her character and context, deliberately eccentric as she may be. Her scenic descriptions also recall to me my brief visit to Egypt, even though it was more than a century later that I arrived.

I wouldn’t hold this up as a masterpiece of literature, but I did enjoy it thoroughly. Given that there are now some twenty novels by the author about this character, I doubt it will be the last of them that I read. [via]