Lion in the Valley

Perhaps my favorite Amelia Peabody Emerson mystery yet! Elizabeth Peters isn't exactly a brilliant mystery novelist as far as the mystery part is concerned, but she does, indeed, craft a fun tale -- and she's created two very charming lead characters whose banter more than makes up for any deficiencies as far as the mystery is concerned. Thankfully any issues which cropped up in the past few novels and proved to be irritating (aka Ramses and his speech defect) have been firmly dealt with and reasonably worked around. True, things are a bit formulaic and yes, there are several things that the reader just needs to accept and roll with, but hey, I felt more entertained by this book than I have by the previous two installments and this firmly planted me in the pro-Peters camp so that I know I'll keep reading the series, so clearly the book is a very welcome chapter in the lives of Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson.

In Lion in the Valley, the Emerson family heads to Egypt for a season spent excavating at Dahshoor. They acquired this coveted site after events from the previous novel saw them all imprisoned in the black pyramid at Dahshoor and young Ramses may or may not have helped the Director of Antiquities to a rich and exciting find. Even with such glorious pyramids, though, one could not think that Amelia Peabody Emerson would be so content as to ignore the danger from the Master Criminal, that fiend who runs a black-market antiquities ring. Those readers who were growing a bit annoyed at the constant speculation on such a character will be quite pleased with this novel, where considerable progress is made towards unmasking the devil, or at least learning more about his (her?) passions and methods.

The Emersons have a talent for "adopting" down-on-their-luck Englishmen (a role filled just as often by Englishwomen, though) and this holds true here. They run across a young man named Nemo (or such is the name he selects from himself) who is obviously a well-bred Englishman (or Scot) even if he is dirty, dressed as an Arab, and has clearly been smoking opium. After Nemo saves Ramses from potentially being abducted, Emerson insists that they take in this stray and assigns him the role of Ramses-caretaker (no one is much surprised that this post is never filled by one person for more than one book). Not to be outdone, Peabody has her own idea as to who should be taken under her wing this trip when she learns the identity of a young lady named Miss Enid Debenham, an heiress seen in the company of the scheming Kalenischeff. Of course, when Kalenischeff is found dead in her room and Miss Debenham is nowhere to be found, there is some question as to whether or not the lady can look after herself. Naturally, of course, there's plenty of romantic backstory to entangle "Nemo" and Enid and that all plays a role as the Emersons try to determine who killed Kalenischeff, who is behind the antiquities smuggling ring, and who seems to be sending Amelia little tokens of love...

Of primary importance to me in this particular volume was the fact that Ramses has mostly outgrown any speech defects that rendered his soliloquies quite irritating. Now the boy is merely tiresome, but his parents seem to share the same opinion as this reader and so they are frequently cutting the boy off... of course, this often has the obvious effect of silencing the astute young child when he's about to supply a crucial bit of information, thus leading to confusion and drama, but so it goes. The somewhat harder to swallow storyline involves the identity of the master criminal and his true passions... for even if we can adore Amelia Peabody, let's face it... she was initially described in the first book as a pretty solid spinster entirely out of fashion and unless love has totally transformed her, I'm finding it pretty hard that this mastermind has worshipped her from afar. Be that as it may, at least we do get to interact with this genius of crime and we get to see Emerson fume and fuss with jealousy as Amelia bumbles on, oblivious until it's all immediately in her face (or lap). Peters seems to have allowed herself to be a touch more romance-y in each novel, though it's not like there's anything graphic. Perhaps it's simply that she's a little freer with the jokes on this topic, as with a particularly funny exchange when Miss Debenham comments that she heard such strange noises in the desert during the night... all these cries and moans. It's rather quite cute to see Peters add in those small touches while, thankfully, refraining from totally veering into romance novel territory. As passionate as Peabody and Emerson might be, I rather prefer the pan off into the sunset technique as far as they're concerned.

Since I was a little disappointed with The Mummy Case, I was all the more pleased to see that Peters had produced quite a pleasant addition to her series with Lion in the Valley. By this point, most readers will have decided if they're jumping ship on the series or sticking it out and, unsurprisingly, I shall continue to read. The good thing, though, is the fact that these don't particularly require the reader to devour them with great speed, so I feel like I can stretch out my enjoyment to savor these books from this point on, dipping into my stash whenever a rainy day permits.

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