The Mummy Case - Elizabeth Peters

~~Moved from GR~~


The Mummy Case (Amelia Peabody #3)

by Elizabeth Peters


WARNING: do not read this novel if you plan to maintain any awe of Victorian archaeologists such as DeMorgan, Petrie, Wilbour, or Wallis Budge.

After reading this book, every time you see a mention of DeMorgan's hallowed name in a museum or article, you will start giggling about his pathetically eager desire (at least, that portrayed in this novel) to be portrayed heroically in the Illustrated London Times:

(I think the woman in the front might be Amelia herself.)


As Emerson says,

"He is a Frenchman, and Frenchmen are all alike. They are not to be trusted with ladies or with antiquities."

Petrie's illustrious name will conjure the man's tendency to eat canned peas after they had been left half-eaten, stewing and mouldering in the Egyptian sun. Wilbour will always be the amiable "Father of a Beard" working hard to smooth away the ire of the snappish Reverend Sayce.

And Budge...oh, don't get me started on Budge's antics. The worst (or best) of it? Almost all the stories are true, and all the characters, if perhaps a little larger than life, are accurately portrayed. If you read these novels, you'll end up feeling like you know the Victorian archaeologists, bizarre eccentricities and all. And you'll always envision Amelia Peabody Emerson, flanked by her belligerent husband and Machiavellian son, poking her parasol into every political and social bee's hive in the archaeological world.

The Mummy Case is one of my absolute favourite stories in the entire series. The gleeful combat between Amelia and Emerson is still in full force, only heightened by their simmering and ever-present romantic passion. But yet another element of entertainment and conflict has appeared on the scene: the young Walter ("Ramses") Emerson is finally accompanying his parents on a dig. Young Ramses is one of my absolute favourite characters in the series. He is, as his mother once put it, "catastrophically precocious," constantly jumping from one debacle to the next and always just managing to avoid the edicts of his mother via his positively Jesuitical reasoning. His terrifying prolixity, paired with his inability to pronounce certain diphthongs, makes his dialogue a constant source of entertainment. He's also developed a new interest in mummification; as he puts it:

"[I] wish to dig up dead people. Human remains are de indicators of de racial affiliations of de ancient Egyptians. Furdermore, I feel a useful study might be made of techniques of mummification down de ages."

Emerson bent a tender look upon his son and heir. "Very well, Ramses; Papa will find you all the dead bodies you want."

Last, there is his ever-present shadow, "da cat Bastet", to add an additional flair to the novel. This series also is one of the only ones I've ever read in which the female protagonist finds the man, has the kid, and still remains the main character. In almost every other series I've read, it seems like as soon as said husband is captured and said child is produced, the female heroine has apparently fulfilled all potential roles in the story and retires to the background. Not so with Amelia Peabody--she has far too much life left in her!

As is always the case with Amelia and Emerson, no sooner have they arrived in Egypt but they are adrift in a sea of intrigue. Emerson has proclaimed his intent to excavate the Black Pyramid of Dashur--

--entirely ignoring the fact that de Morgan, head of archaeology, has already planned to dig there. Despite all of Emerson's roars and all of Amelia's wiles, the couple is forced to settle with the nearby site of Mazghuna instead. According to Emerson, the conversation went something like this:

"'You desire pyramids,' he said, with that French smirk of his, 'I give you pyramids, my dear cabbage.  Mazghunah.  What do you say to Mazghunah?'"

Amelia is not pleased: the image below, a picture of the "pyramids" at Mazghuna, certainly explains her disappointment.

Amelia perks up when she realizes that the game's afoot: a dastardly antiquities thief is in town, a smarmy antiquities dealer has been found hanged, an American evangelical is stirring up trouble, and Rameses is behaving even more suspiciously than usual. The indomitable Amelia, armed with her invincible self-confidence and her parasol, sets out to unravel the mess, shadowed by her perniciously perspicacious and apparently ubiquitous son. Master criminals, religious lunatics, and a bizarrely peripatetic mummy case create a baffling--and, above all, entertaining--web of conspiracy and contrivance.


I strongly suggest listening to these books on audiobook, narrated by the inimitable Barbara Rosenblat. She is absolutely perfect at creating voices for these characters and her voice for the dipthong-deprived Rameses is absolutely spectacular. In print or on audiobook, I cannot too highly recommend this instalment of the series!