Amelia Peabody is a strong-willed Egyptologist with definite feminist leanings in late 19th century Britain and she is, much to her surprise, married. Radcliffe Emerson, a distinguished archaeologist with a passion for all things pyramid, is her adoring and combative spouse and before long a small precocious Emerson, nicknamed Ramses, is busy upending their household and their lives.
The Mummy Case is an Elizabeth Peters mystery with Peabody at the heart of the devious doings in the desert outside Cairo but it is Ramses who takes over the book. He travels with mum and dad to Egypt at age six or seven, a child with an unerring instinct for dirt and disaster, a pet cat he calls De Cat Bastet who is fierce, slightly feral and will not be parted from him, a prodigious knowledge of Egyptian antiquity and practically everything, a knack for picking up and translating obscure languages and a habit of bending the English language to his own intentions, despite the explicit regulations of his mother.
Family and feline set out for Egypt anticipating a rich dig in the temples of Dahshoor, a site only lightly explored with tantalizing potential for major discoveries. Alas, Radcliffe has failed to secure dig permission in time and someone has beat him to it. The Emersons are relegated to a bone-strewn site with no standing pyramids, right next door to the coveted dig. But before they even arrive on the desolate scene, Amanda has stumbled across a murder and a mystery in the commercial byways of Cairo that will threaten their work and her entire family.
Muslims, Coptics, christians and missionaries vie for center stage with eccentric Brits, a pet lion cub, missing antiquities, an odd mummy case and the misadventures of an irrepressible child who invites fresh disaster at every turn. Ramses insists on his speech quirk—to pronounce all “th” sounds as “d” sounds, even as he translates ancient papyri, overhears whispered plots in several languages, conducts his own clandestine excavations and acquires a second ferocious beast to live in his bedroom at the dig site.
The Mummy Case is amusing and instructive, detailing the black market antiquities trade, the supercilious white invaders of a complex, ancient civilization, and the ability of a determined small boy to dominate his world, reveal perfidy and avoid directly disobeying his mother. Ramses makes the intellectual sparring between his brilliant parents, the zealots and crooks, the misguided Brits and the hunt for artifacts fun. He is central to the plot and its resolution, and a welcome addition to the Amanda Peabody sagas. It’s an entertaining read full of vaudevillian characters, improbable developments and a narrative that makes it all believable with the kid and de cat Bastet at the heart of the story. Those two are small but effective heroes who don’t doubt themselves for a second, and neither do we.
The Mummy Case: An Amelia Peabody Novel of Suspense (Amelia Peabody Mysteries) Elizabeth Peters | William Morrow 2007