Tag Archives: Jerusalem

A River in the Sky – Elizabeth Peters

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The Emerson family, the brightest and bossiest collection of human beings to grace early 1900s archaeology, has been unleashed on another artifact-rich region. This time the delightful and troublesome Ramses is a young man—he’s an admirable young man but I love him as the hell-on-wheels six-year-old in older Egyptian adventures—and there is an adopted daughter, Nefret, whose acquisition must have been the fascinating topic of another book.

A River in the Sky tracks Amelia Peabody Emerson, her blustery, adoring and brilliant Egyptologist husband, Nefret and a motley crew of friends, servants and hangers-on to Jerusalem where a bumbling amateur intends to dig for the Ark of the Covenant at one of the holiest sites in Palestine. Ramses is already in Palestine on another dig, getting himself perilously involved in a murderous intrigue. The Germans are planning a railroad and an eventual occupation of the region. Turkish soldiers of the Ottoman Empire don’t bother with niceties when keeping order. Weird characters abound and many of them might be spies or other nefarious villains.

As ever, Amelia is brusque, intelligent, competent, attracted to the most dangerous sites and the possibilities of a dig to clear up some historical mysteries. But this time an added complication is the apparent disappearance of Ramses who has failed to show up as directed and join his parents’ dig. The Crown has set the Emersons loose in Palestine to uncover a plot to destabilize the precarious peace among conflicting religions in the tinderbox of Jerusalem. Much more than the discovery of new artifacts is at stake. Things get complicated before the expedition sets one foot out of England.

Elizabeth Peters delivers her razor-sharp, contentious, funny and historically-lavish typical Amelia Peabody mystery. The repartee between the Emersons is quick and clever. The plots and subplots twist into a satisfying tangle. You can’t entirely guess at the resolution but you are happy to be led to it, enjoying the adventure along the way. There are no false notes in these stories. The times, the trickery and the players all make sense in a believable world. My only regret was the absence of De Cat Bastet and that wicked little boy who bedevils everyone and saves the day hilariously in earlier books.

A River in the Sky: An Amelia Peabody Novel of Suspense   Elizabeth Peters | HarperCollins   2010

Appointment with Death – Agatha Christie

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British tourists in Jerusalem and the ruins of Petra are Agatha Christie’s players in Appointment with Death. Hercule Poirot hangs around for part of the action—mostly to eavesdrop on a murderous conversation and then to step in and grill everyone after the body is discovered. Christie goes for the mentally aberrant in this one—a truly horrid matriarch dominates a pathetically submissive family who are all going crazy trying to jump through her hoops. The woman is sadistic and a psychiatrist and a newly minted medical doctor on the tour are transfixed by her toxic machinations.

Add an overbearing lady politician, her timid and uncertain sidekick, a racist tour guide, a handful of abused porters and servers and a few love interests and you’ve cooked up a peppery mensaf, a classic Jordanian stew. If mama is a monster, despondent siblings are plotting her demise, baby sister is slipping into madness and the whole social scene is a bit sick, who dies, who kills them and who gets the family fortune? Poirot is not fooled for an instant by this simplistic calculation. He knows, as he always does, that motives can be as hidden and surprising as the murder weapons.

Lots of arch vernacular, more than a little type casting, plenty of clandestine objectives, furtive comings and goings and some spectacular theater keep this vintage detective novel from seeming too dated. Agatha Christie is fun to read and Poirot is a worthy opponent to match wits with, although he’ll be quicker and cleverer than you are every time.

Appointment with Death: A Hercule Poirot Mystery (Hercule Poirot Mysteries)   Agatha Christie | Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers (first copyright 1937)