Crocodile on the Sandbank is the first of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody books, a series of historical mystery novels set in Egypt and following the adventures of a Victorian lady with a passion for archaeology.
When we first meet Amelia at the beginning of the novel, she has recently inherited a fortune following her father’s death and is planning to use some of her money to visit Egypt. Passing through Rome on her way to Cairo, Amelia rescues a young woman, Evelyn Barton-Forbes, who has been abandoned by her lover and the two become friends and travelling companions. After they arrive in Egypt, Amelia and Evelyn meet archaeologist Radcliffe Emerson and his younger brother Walter, who are working on a dig at Amarna. The two women soon team up with the Emerson brothers to tackle a mysterious mummy who seems to be stalking them at night!
Amelia is the book’s first person narrator, but I wasn’t sure at first if I was going to like her. She has a very sharp, witty narrative voice and for the first few chapters I found her alternatively amusing and irritating. Luckily though, after I got to know her better I started to warm to her. As well as being outspoken and sarcastic she’s also brave, intelligent and loyal to her friends – and definitely not a conventional Victorian woman! Emerson is a very strong character too and I enjoyed watching his relationship with Amelia develop.
Although I am interested in history, Ancient Egypt has never been one of my favourite subjects to read about, but Amelia and Emerson are so enthusiastic about Egypt and archaeology that I ended up with more enthusiasm for the subject too. The adventures they have exploring tombs, discovering mummies and deciphering hieroglyphics all sound so fascinating!
The mystery itself wasn’t one of the novel’s strong points though. It was hard to believe that someone as intelligent as Amelia wasn’t able to immediately work out what was happening and who the villain was. But like Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries, I think the charm of this book was in the setting and the characters (or Amelia and Emerson, at least – the other characters didn’t have a lot of depth) rather than the mystery.
The overall tone of Crocodile on the Sandbank is light and entertaining and although I’m not completely convinced about this series yet, I did like this book enough to want to read the second one. I’ll remember to pick up The Curse of the Pharaohs next time I want to relax with another fun Egyptian adventure.