After a long discussion with my coworker where we debated whether or not I had talked about this book on the blog before (I swear that I had at some point!) we decided that I should just go ahead and write about it now. That book is Elizabeth Peters’ Crocodile on the Sandbank and having reread it very recently, I’ve decided that it is, in fact, one of my favorites.
Written in 1975, Crocodile on the Sandbank takes place in 1880s Egypt during the “Golden Age” of Egyptology, approximately 30 or so years before Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. There’s something so alluring about ancient Egypt and Peters (pen name of Barbara Mertz, who received a PhD in Egyptology in 1952) fills her novel with details of landscapes and excavation which makes for a vivid read.
The heroine of Crocodile on the Sandbank is 32 year-old self-proclaimed spinster, Amelia Peabody, who, after inheriting a fortune from her late father, has decided to leave her home in England to travel the world. She finds a travel companion in Evelyn Barton-Forbes, a young woman recently left penniless by her stern grandfather and abandoned by her erstwhile Italian lover, Alberto. Together they set off on a journey down the Nile for what they expect to be a summer of fascinating sight-seeing. But before long, their travel is interrupted by two brothers – Walter and Radcliffe Emerson who have set up an archeological dig at the site of Amarna.
Amelia is instantly fascinated with the work they’re both doing and doesn’t hesitate to make her opinions known. Radcliffe is outraged by the prospect of a silly English woman traipsing about his site and Amelia has no patience to indulge his male ego, but they soon realize they may have met their intellectual match. However, the appearance of a nocturnal specter with the form of a recently discovered mummy threatens the entire group. Amelia must solve this mystery before someone loses their life.
I don’t typically care for mysteries, but what makes Crocodile on the Sandbank so enjoyable is the character of Amelia. She narrates the novel with such a commanding presence and sharp wit – slinging biting one-liners like, “men always have some high-sounding excuse for indulging themselves” and generally not taking any lip service from anyone, especially about what may or may not be a proper hobby for a lady. She’s intelligent and determined, sometimes to the point of being too bullheaded, yet extremely compassionate. Amelia is a wonderful example of a strong female character – she’s driven by her thirst for knowledge, playing an active role in the events surrounding her. Crocodile on the Sandbank is such a fun read; I can’t recommend it highly enough.