Amelia Peabody is well aware that she is not attractive by any objective measure - her figure is too round for modern fashion, her manner too acerbic and her mind too quick. More than resigned, she is comfortable with her status of middle-aged spinster. When her father died, leaving the bulk of his estate to her, Amelia left behind the flood if suddenly-attentive siblings, in-laws, nephews and nieces to achieve a life-long dream - to travel Europe and particularly Egypt. Even in the 1880's it was scandalous for a woman to travel alone, but good fortune not only rid Amelia of her tiresome companion Miss Pritchett but allowed her to retain the services of a gentlewoman seduced by an Italian cad and stranded in Rome. Evelyn Barton-Forbes, a woman who would become a life-long friend.
When Amelia and Evelyn first cross paths with archaeologist Radcliffe Emerson and his brother Walter, Amelia's first reaction is fiery - the man may be intelligent and attractive but he is also arrogant and strong-willed. Walter seems attracted to Evelyn but she is too conscious of her ruined status to besmirch his reputation.
A series of adventures in El Armanah, from fever to mummies that walk the night, serve not only to strengthen Amelia's love of Egypt but to solidify the bond between all four adventurers. From elderly spinster, Amelia becomes a dewy and appreciated partner, and part of a family more welcoming and appreciative than the one she was born to.
This is the first in the Amelia Peabody mysteries, currently some twenty books strong. The hallmarks of the series, including a deep knowledge of and love for Egypt, sparkling humour, self deprecation and glinting intelligence are present throughout. Peters does a masterful job of, like the redoubtable Greenwood in her Phryne Fisher series, presenting a modern feminist sensibility within the constrains of her chosen period. - Alex