The Mummy Case

The third book in the Elizabeth Peters series that features the intrepid Amelia Peabody and her husband, Radcliffe Emerson... and our first expedition with Walter "Ramses" Emerson, their precocious young son. Emerson had promised Peabody that this season, she would have pyramids... but when he's unable to obtain the rights to excavate at Dahshoor, he grumblingly accepts a rather poor site called Mazghunah, where the pyramids of Dahshoor are close enough to taunt them. Mazghunah appears to be a burial ground, with poorly constructed later pyramids that have already collapsed to be buried by sand. It's of a much later period than Emerson cares, but with his pride injured, he sticks stubbornly to his dedication to a job well done on any project.

Of course, Emerson should be aware that with a wife like Peabody (who stumbles into every potential criminal case that could possibly be afoot) and a son like Ramses (who seeks out all manner of trouble), even a season as Mazghunah will be eventful. Peabody is intent on learning more about a smuggling ring that she believes is lead by a "Master Criminal," and her suspicions about this are only confirmed when an antiques dealer is found dead. It may look like suicide but Peabody is convinced of foul play and that the Master Criminal is to blame. Emerson, naturally, takes a bit more convincing before he can accept that something sinister is afoot. After multiple thefts, often involving the same mummy, the sleuthing couple (aided by their loquacious son and his intelligent cat, Bastet) set out to solve the mystery that seems to feature everyone around them as a potential suspect.

I must admit that The Mummy Case did not terribly delight me. Sure, it was pleasant enough as another chapter in the lives of Amelia Peabody and her husband, but the case was not terribly fascinating and the characters were only mildly amusing. Perhaps the most annoying thing is the acceptance that Ramses is, indeed, here to stay as a prime feature of the storylines and I just can't quite warm to the child. He's terribly annoying and speaks at length on any given subject. At least his parents are aware of his defects (at least Amelia is; Emerson quite dotes on the boy) and frequently interrupt him with requests that he get to the point. Honestly, he could be much more pleasant if Peters simply did away with his unfortunate lisp (well, I suppose it's not a lisp, is it, it's simply an issue with diphthongs and such). A character with such a speech defect is mildly annoying when he or she remains relatively quiet but when it's a character that speaks at such length, it's enough to be a valid reason to set down the series entirely. If his speech doesn't improve by the next installment, I might seriously be moved to discontinue my reading, no matter how delightful I might find Peabody and Emerson to be.

So, in short, fans of the series will appreciate another book but clearly must be one of the hurdles that I was forewarned about. I don't mind the simplistic mysteries so much as annoying characters, because Peters is actually quite good at sketching amusing characters and Ramses seems like a real lapse in judgment. The unconventional family dynamics, however, are a bit amusing. Emerson is a ridiculous softie when it comes to his son and Peabody loves him but is far more rational than most mothers when it comes to their offspring. Indeed, it's not quite fear that tinges her observations of her child, but there's certainly a bit of concern for her far-too-intelligent son and his capabilities for getting into scrapes. Since there always seems to be a sub-plot of uniting two lovers, I predict that the need for Ramses to be watched 24/7 will supply us with a parade of fellows (or strong governesses) to provide one half of the equation there. Through it all, though, the interactions between Emerson and Peabody make for a delightful cornerstone on which the foundation of the series is built. Here's hoping we can overcome the small irritations so that we can continue to enjoy these two characters as they dig through archaeological sites and mysterious cases of intrigue.

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