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The Falcon at the Portal – Elizabeth Peters

Amelia Peabody Emerson inhabits a much darker mystery in this Edwardian Egypt adventure. On the eve of his wedding to Amelia’s niece, her honorary son David is accused of selling forgeries. Her quixotic son Ramses is more sober than in previous trips to Egypt but no less inclined to find real trouble at every turn. Her adopted daughter Nefret is stubbornly independent and scorns all attempts by boyfriend wannabes. Her adored husband, Professor Radcliffe Emerson, lives up to his reputation as the Father of Curses and a larger-than-life, tempestuous presence in England and in Egypt.

Once again Elizabeth Peters’ exuberant crew gets a crummy dig site in Egypt and once again Amelia sets up the perfect household and Emerson anticipates memorable finds. But lovelorn ladies trail after Ramses and besotted beaus flock to Nefret and neither recognizes the other’s affection so their romance is a frustrating nonstarter. Meanwhile, the family tries to discover the source of the bogus antiquities that are being marketed under David’s name while he is off on a Mycenaeian honeymoon.  And then ugly things and odd accidents start to happen at the dig site and all the Emersons seem to be under fire–sometimes literally.

The plot of The Falcon… feels more complex than some of the earlier books. It does go on, and on, but the Egyptology and the feisty characters manage to hold your attention.  I found it a perfectly satisfying read with one exception. Nefret, a reliably appealing character, does one precipitous thing that is so extreme and so jarring that it seems contrived to advance the plot. It definitely does advance the plot–even provides an entree to future episodes–but I didn’t buy it and it spoiled the resolution of the mystery for me somewhat.

Plenty of creepy, sordid and underhanded deeds in this installment of Amelia Peabody in Egypt. Plenty of dusty, sandy, dangerous tombs, spectacular deaths and a few high-maintenance animals, an Emerson family weakness. A new character shows up, too, and might turn out to be a keeper for future books. (I’ve never read these in order of publication as I get them when they show up at our neighborhood library.) Naturally, the new kid is just as much trouble as every other female in these stories so fans of Peters’ work may have another tough chick–a little one–to look forward to. 

The Falcon at the Portal: An Amelia Peabody Novel of Suspense (Amelia Peabody Mysteries)   Elizabeth Peters | Avon 1999