Remembering Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels

RIP EP (960x1280) It was with much sorrow that I learned last week that Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels) died on August 8. This notice appeared soon after on the author’s website:

“Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters & Barbara Michaels) died peacefully at home early in the morning of Aug. 8, 2013. She had put up a very tough battle against cancer for over a decade, in a style worthy of Amelia. She preferred not to be fussed over, and so did not make her illness public. She died as she had told everyone she wanted to – unexpectedly, in her sleep. Shortly before her death, she had written a line to be posted on this webpage: “At 85, Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Michaels) is enjoying her cats, her garden, lots of chocolate, and not nearly enough gin.””

I never met Ms. Mertz, never saw her in person, but I’ll admit to having shed a few tears when I learned of her death. On Thursday evening I poured myself a whiskey and soda (one of Amelia Peabody’s favorite drinks) and began a reread of Crocodile on the Sandbank, the first in the Amelia Peabody series.

I was first introduced to Ms. Mertz’s books by my mother. During a semester break from college my mother handed me Ammie, Come Home by Barbara Michaels and told me I would like it, and I did indeed. It was also one of the scariest books I’d read up to that point, and stuck with me for years.

A few years later, while scouring a used book store, I found an old copy of Crocodile on the Sandbank by the author Elizabeth Peters (and I had no idea Elizabeth Peters was the same as Barbara Michaels). This was another case of staying up all night. I simply fell in love with the characters, the setting, and the author’s voice. But I read Crocodile before the internet, and had no idea it was the first in what was to become a lengthy series. As I wrote in my DIK review here (my A review for applying to be an AAR reviewer):

I first read Crocodile on the Sandbank more than 20 years ago, and fell in love with Amelia Peabody, Emerson, and the rest of the gang. I’ve thought fondly of the book ever since, but managed to forget the title and the author. Finally, in 2002 I did some searches on the web and discovered not only the author’s name – Elizabeth Peters – but also the fact that the book is just the first in a long series featuring Amelia and Emerson.

After learning Crocodile was the first in a series I headed to the closest bookstore and picked up a new copy of it, as well as the next three in the series. Within a week I was back at the bookstore buying additional books in the series. When I finally caught up, I was in a panic: how could I wait months for the next book to come out? I searched for the release date of the next entry, marked it on my calendar, and was soon counting down the days. On the day the next entry was released, I headed for the Borders closest to my office at lunch, picked up the book, and began reading in a nearby café. I thought about taking the afternoon off but managed to restrain myself. But it was a long four hours until I could head home and finish the book. And yes, I finished it that night, meaning I then had at least 12 months until the next entry!

Thus began a tradition. Each year I would hit a bookstore the day the next Amelia book was released. And each time I would stay up late, sucked once again into Amelia Peabody’s world. Reading each new book was like visiting old friends. I knew that each book would provide me with a lot of laughs, and at times a few tears. The series also encouraged me to try other mystery writers, for which I’ll always be grateful.

I haven’t read either of Ms. Mertz’s non-fiction works on Egypt, but hope to locate copies soon. I’m curious to see what her non-fiction voice is like. Thanks to some AAR readers I’ve read and enjoyed Ms. Peters’ Vicky Bliss mystery series. I’ve read one of her Jaqueline Kirby series and intend to pick up the rest soon. But no matter how much I enjoy her other books, my favorites will always be the Amelia Peabody mysteries.

One of my favorite lines in Crocodile toward the end of the book is when Emerson tells Peabody:

“Archaeology is a fascinating pursuit, but after all, one cannot work day and night…Peabody, my darling Peabody – what a perfectly splendid time we are going to have!”

And what a splendid time they did have over the course of the series, and what a splendid time they gave me as a reader. Thank you, Ms. Mertz!

– LinnieGayl Kimmel

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13 Responses to “Remembering Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels”

  1. LinnieGayl says:

    I should add that I spotted the memorial in the photo in the window of Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore the day after I finished writing this. A lovely tribute and reminded me all over again of how much I love the Amelia Peabody mysteries.

  2. maggie b. says:

    The Amelia Peabody series is one of my very favorite series ever. I also really enjoyed the Jaqueline Kirby books. I need to read the Vicky Bliss books.

    She was a fantastic author and I will very much miss her work.

  3. Patricia M. says:

    I was so saddened by her passing. I had a very selfish thought when I heard since this means no more new Amelia Peobody books. I once tried to explain to a male friend all the different elements that made up those books and just could not. The archeology was accurate for the time; Amelia was unique as a character. Even when written in the first person, we could nonetheless understand what others around her were thinking which was not what Ameila thought they were thinking, if you can figure out what I mean. They are laugh out loud funny, give a commentary on the British in Eqypt in the Victorian era without condesending and create unique characters we care deeply about. The view of motherhood that she portrayed in her books was unique. In he Jacqueline Kirby series her children never even appear although there is a reference here and there to them. Imagine! A woman portrayed as complete and not subsumed by the “mother” label. One of the Amelia Peabody scenes that resonated with me most strongly was at the end of the book (I don’t remember the name) where they take on Nefret as a ward, and Amelia is seeing many long years ahead of her in which she will have to subsume her passion for her work and instead care for children. That moment is one many women have but few authors can capture it or would even dare to capture the conflicted feelings toward motherhood. So few words, a scene so brilliantly painted.

  4. Tinabelle says:

    What a wonderful legacy Elizabeth Peters has left us. The Amelia Peabody series is one of my all-time favorites and got me into the mystery genre, too. Linnie Gayl, I am forever in your debt for introducing me to Emerson and Peabody with your review here at AAR. I was hooked. I now have the entire series on my Kindle and smell a reread coming on…

  5. MisseLee says:

    Linnie, what a truly lovely tribute to an author who has meant so much to you. She has left quite a legacy behind, and your enthusiasm for her work will no doubt bring new readers to her now. :-)

  6. AAR Lynn says:

    I was so sad when I heard that Barbara Mertz had died. I also enjoyed her Elizabeth Peters books, but I absolutely loved her work as Barbara Michaels. She spun wonderful gothic mysteries with strong, intelligent heroines and I just loved reading them. I reread one of hers recently, and just thinking about her makes me want to go home and pull out Be Buried in the Rain or maybe Ammie, Come Home.

    • LinnieGayl says:

      I don’t think I’ve ever read Be Buried in the Rain! I’m going to have to look that one up.

  7. Ducky says:

    I so enjoyed her Amelia Peabody and Vicky Bliss series. I am thankful her stories and characters live on.

    • LinnieGayl says:

      They do live on, Ducky. I’ve been on an Amelia Peabody listerve for years. It’s been mostly inactive for quite some time but late last week had a huge flurry of activity. And one of the topics of discussion was some people initially feeling as if Amelia Peabody had died as well, but then realizing that they do indeed live on. I think many of us are doing rereads of our favorites.

  8. Elizabeth Peters brought the world of audiobook to a whole new level with her great use of dialog and an excellent reader that never faltered and all the different characters, Barbara Rosenblat really knows how to bring a story to life and she did it with some great words to read. They’ll never be another quite as talented as Elizabeth Peters – you will be missed.

    • LinnieGayl says:

      I adore Barbara Rosenblat’s narration of the Amelia Peabody series. I’m gradually acquiring all of my favorites in the series.