27 October 2008

Review: The Hippopotamus Pool, by Elizabeth Peters

This is the 8th entry in the Amelia Peabody mystery series. The series must be read in order because the main characters age and change and new ones are introduced, disappear, and reappear.

Amelia Peabody, a self-sufficient, forward-thinking Victorian, met her dashing husband, Radcliff Emerson, in the first book of the series. Emerson is an Egyptologist, and the pair return to the banks of the Nile almost every year to resume their search for a untouched royal tomb. No field season would be complete without a little murder and mayhem.

In this entry, Amelia and Emerson take their son, Ramses, and their ward, Nefret, with them to Thebes, where the family hopes to excavate the tomb of Queen Tetisheri. They are soon joined by Emerson's brother, Walter, and his wife, Evelyn, as well as a handful of other characters whom we've met in previous books.

The books are told from Amelia's viewpoint, and her exaggerations about her own and Emerson's abilities and intelligence are part of the fun. Ramses, always precocious and often reckless, is now an adolescent and beginning to mature. The beautiful Nefret has entered into competition with Ramses on almost every level. Walter and Evelyn are having marital trouble.

The mystery part of this book was not what I've come to expect from the series. The kidnappings, murders, stolen artifacts, and various attacks on our heroes -- and even the archaeology -- seem to have taken a backseat to the activities of the family, their friends, and their workers. Peters waits until almost the last quarter of the book to remind us that this is a mystery, and the action then picks up. It's too late and not enough. Furthermore, the solution is a bit unsatisfying. The book is not typical of Peters's abilities.

I was disappointed. In fact, I was almost relieved when the book ended. My understanding is that the series returns to its familiar excellence and humor in the next book, Seeing a Large Cat.

I want to stress how much I love Amelia and Emerson, their family, and their adventures. There are now (as far as I can tell) 18 books in the series, and I believe this is the only dud. It is important to get through Hippopotamus Pool in terms of keeping up with the characters; just don't expect a good mystery.

I listened to the book via digital download from NetLibrary. The unabridged version I borrowed was read by Barbara Rosenblatt, who is a master with this series. The voices are terrific and identifiable, but more pleasurable is Robenblatt's ability to create tension, drama, and humor in her reading. For me, there can be no other narrator for the series.

This book was part of Katrina's Fall into Reading challenge. To see what others have read, click here.

Audio published by Recorded Books (1996)
ISBN: 9780788761454
Challenge: Fall into Reading
Rating: C


Nely 10/27/08, 10:37 AM  

RYC: It absolutely IS so... Bill keeps digging his grave deeper and deeper with me. DOWN with Bill!! UP with ERIC!!

Anonymous,  10/27/08, 9:44 PM  

I have never heard of this series. I may be way off but your review made me think a little bit about the Mrs. Pollifax series which I really enjoyed so I might like these too!

Beth F 10/28/08, 6:48 AM  

Round File: You are very right! If you like Mrs. Pollifax, you'd probably like Peabody and Emerson, too.

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