The Curse of the Pharaohs (Amelia Peabody, #2)

By Elizabeth Peters

20,179 ratings - 4* vote

Victorian Amelia Peabody continues to journal her Egypt adventures, toddler Ramses left in England. Husband Radcliffe Emerson's old friend Lady Baskerville fears a curse killed her husband Sir Henry, and soon engages the attentions of American Cyrus. The will funds continued excavation. But a lady dressed in white floats, flutters, spreads fear, and more death. Victorian Amelia Peabody continues to journal her Egypt adventures, toddler Ramses left in England. Husband Radcliffe Emerson's

... more

Book details

Kindle Edition, 307 pages
March 1st 2010 by Mysterious Press

(first published 1981)

Original Title
The Curse Of The Pharaohs
Edition Language

Community Reviews


I enjoyed this less than the first book in the series, partly because a lot of it was so similar to that book. An archaeological dig is in peril due to local superstitions about a curse, exacerbated by disappearances, ghostly sightings and deaths. If I hadn't just read the first book last month, I might have liked it better.

I also missed some of the cast from the first book. Walter and Evelyn were absent, and there were no new characters who balanced the intensity of Amelia and Emerson (which is needed, I think) or that I really cared about. There was lots of shouting and arguing, all very humorously, but I wished there was more about the excavation and less of the people. I was actually thankful when Amelia used her parasol on one of the characters!

Now to the mystery. Amelia is sure she knows who is behind all the dead bodies, but we don't get many clues along the way, and don't know what she's thinking until all is revealed. There were enough possible culprits that I really had no idea who it was until the end, but I didn't feel like I had enough information to figure it out, so the mystery was a bit lacking. It was more like a suspense novel with an abundance of 'calm in the face of calamity' and witty conversation along the way.

All that said, I still found Amelia and Emerson entertaining, even if they are a bit over the top. And the 19th Century Egyptian archaeology setting is fun. I think I just need to wait longer between installments so that I don't mind the recycled elements. That, and expect the mystery to be solved for me by mysterious logic and intuition behind the scenes because it's more about Amelia being right than the mystery itself.


The second book in the series and I enjoyed it every bit as much as I did the first.

It's the two main characters who absolutely make these books. There is Amelia Peabody who believes herself to be the most intelligent person in any room - and sometimes she is, just not always. Don't try to tell her that though! She is one of those fabulous Victorian women who went out as explorers, riding camels (or donkeys in this case) in the desert and crawling around in hot, dirty excavations in totally unsuitable clothes. She also has the driest and best sense of humour which she uses mostly to spar with her husband Emerson. Some of their conversations are really laugh aloud funny. They make a very good team and a delightful example of a well married couple.

The story is Agatha Christie like. People keep turning up dead, there are clues aplenty, most of them red herrings and at the end there is a gathering of characters where the whole affair is explained. I needed that because I did not have a clue what was happening. My failure, not the author's:)

This was a real pleasure to read and I am looking forward to the next one.


So the other day I got into a mock fight with some Goodreader's over the relative merits of Ms. Elizabeth Peters and her "Amelia Peabody" series. For the uninitiated over the course of the series Mrs. Amelia Peabody Emerson, her cranky but brilliant Egyptologist husband Emerson, their semi-psycho brilliant son Ramses, adopted daughter Nefret and a host of other's who wander in and out of the narrative wander around Victorian era Egypt discovering tombs and solving murders and eventually getting mixed up in the things like World Wars, espionage and political upheaval in the Middle East. All the books are told from Amelia's POV and she's a very, very dry British woman ahead of her time who firmly believes herself the smartest person in the room.

I swear I remember this series really, really fondly from my youth and I got a huge kick out of listening to the first in the series Crocodile on the Sandbank on audio a week ago. Its the story of how Emerson and Amelia meet and its spooky and fun and very English.

Which is why I'm kind of baffled by how bizarre The Curse of the Pharaohs is.

Several years have passed and Amelia and Emerson are petitioned by Lady Baskerville who's "archaeologist" husband (read: rich guy who liked Egypt stuff) has just died as a result of what everyone thinks is a curse on the tomb "he" (read: actual archaeologists who work for him) had just found. She wants Emerson to take over the excavation. After several chapters of debate and preparation the Emerson's are off to the Valley of the Kings and a stay at Lady Baskerville's mansion where it quickly becomes obvious that someone is trying to put an end to any plans for the excavation of whatever lies in the tomb.

It also becomes obvious that all the supporting players in this story are totally frickin' bonkers. The Emerson's are immediately surrounded by a cast of "wacky neighbors" who do nothing for the plot but muddy the waters and act bizarre. There's a crazy, obese old woman who just kind of shows up dressed as a nightmarish version of an Egyptian Queen who's always blind drunk and very insistent that Emerson is her reincarnated lover, her simpering, constantly weeping daughter who served no purpose to the actual story that I could figure out other than to provide a point of contention for no less then three suitors who are all vying for her hand. One of them is a German expert in something Egypt related, one of them is a Yankee (who says thing like "yeehaw" and "golly gee wilikers"), and one of them is a reporter who keeps writing inflamatory articles about the Emerson's in his rag of a paper. There's another guy too initially but he gets hit over the head and spends most of the book unconscious (thank god).

Still with me?

So right there's been a murder...maybe. No one actually thinks Lord Baskerville was murdered until his former assistant also turns up dead and then some more people die but its also happening in the midst of the crazy drunk obese woman being crazy and the love triangle and archaeology stuff so forgive me if I've kind of lost the plot.

Because that's what happens here. The plot totally vanishes in favor of a really bizarre sort of slapstick, "Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy" kind of situation. Amelia and Emerson start competing to see who can solve the various mysteries first going so far as to poison and shoot at each other and Emerson at one point puts on this insane Egyptian themed "phatasmagoria" that's apparently supposed to draw the murderer out? Like why aren't they working together to solve a series of frickin' MURDERS?!

Basically everyone involved in this is deeply, deeply insane. Its just a crazy, madcap "adventure" that doesn't have a real focus. I don't know if Peters was on like a second novel high where she thought she had to up the ante and make everything bigger and louder and crazier but the result is almost incomprehensible!

I have no idea what happened here. At all.

✨ Gramy ✨

I listened to this gem of a story through Hoopla, which I access through my local library. It is thrilling when I discover that a series I enjoy in audio as much as I did this one, by the talented and versatile narrator, Susan O'Malley.
This tale commences five years after the previous book concluded.  It produced such a comically, vivid picture that it had me laughing out loud. I have finally found a clean book series that provides wit, humor, and tons of new words to devour.  The reuniting of Radcliff and Amelia Emerson with their precocious eight-month-old son, after a five-month separation, bewildered Emerson and Amelia.  They were deeply disturbed by a strange roaring noise that increased in volume as they neared the nursery.  To paraphrase the commentary  . . . 

Sitting bolt upright in the middle of the floor was a baby. It was impossible to make out its features.  All one could see was a wide cavern of a mouth, framed in black hair . . .   I was struck at once by its shape, which was virtually rectangular.  Most babies I had observed, tended to be spherical . . . . . . It's ample mouth split into a smile that produced dimples in both cheeks and displayed three small white teeth.  "Mama, up, up, UP!"  

This historical romance inspires clean and wholesome entertainment with a cast of quirky characters working together to catch a murderer and solve this historical mystery at an excavation of an ancient Egyptian tomb, filled with Egyptian antiquities.  This time the willful and witty duo, comprised of Radcliff and Amelia, are involved in catching another murderer at another excavation of an ancient Egyptian tomb ...

The author expresses herself so dramatically that it captures the reader's attention. Just when you may begin to feel a little lost or bored, her personal outburst will recapture your attention, or she might strike someone with her trusty parasol and then, just continue the story.  She has a distinct way of portraying each intrinsically humorous experience, giving the reader a unique and uncommon perspective to observe.

This is a historical romance that inspires clean and wholesome entertainment, bringing Radcliff and Amelia Emerson out of retirement.  Each book in the series is a stand-alone mystery which can be read without previous knowledge. However, the characters age throughout the series and events in previous books (including spoilers concerning some of the main characters) are referenced in later books. I am enjoying this clean book series immensely, I thoroughly enjoyed soaking up the wit, humor, and tons of new words waiting to be devoured. In my opinion, any romantic insinuations were referred to charmingly in a discreet manner.  Although this book does not always follow the social protocol, instead of taking leaps in many directions, the entertainment delivers great entertainment. The sparkling gems of dry wit were fabulous and plenty to be had!  Oddly enough, there will most assuredly be reviews all over the chart for this writing, depending on the different perspectives from multi-faceted readers.

Elizabeth Peters is quite the storyteller and expresses herself so dramatically that it captures the reader's attention and compels them to journey on. Just when you may begin to feel a little lost or bored, her personal outburst will recapture your attention, or she might strike someone with her trusty umbrella, defend those she loves with her pistol, or slash away at whatever offends.   I was delighted with the notes within the book to the reader to explain what the author was trying to convey.  I hope you enjoy this experience s much as I did!

You may be interested in more of this author's many other novels in the future.  She writes under her pen names Elizabeth Peters, Barbara Michaels, and her real name - Barbara Mertz. 

Mlpmom (Book Reviewer)

Such a fun read! I loved every page of it. Who doesn't love a feisty heroine and a good murder mystery that will keep you on the edge of your seat guessing until the very end?


Warning: this review will involve spoilers for those who haven't read the previous book!

Five years have supposedly passed since the events of the series opener, Crocodile on the Sandbank. (Many of the comments in my review of that one, , are relevant here as well.) This would give us the date of 1889, with Amelia now 37 years old. By the close of the first book, she and Radcliffe Emerson were married (so strictly speaking, she's now Amelia Emerson, but he still calls her "Peabody" as a nickname), and expecting their first child. He's now a precocious toddler, with an out-sized personality like his dad's (his real name is Walter, after Emerson's brother, but he's nicknamed Ramses after the flamboyant Ramses II). Parenthood has kept the couple in England, though chafing to return to their beloved Egyptian archaeological work. But now, they're unexpectedly called back to the latter. Rich archaeology patron Lord Baskerville ("of the Norfolk Baskervilles, not the Devonshire branch;" it's no mystery that Peters is an Arthur Conan Doyle fan, and we have a "Charles Milverton" here too!) has made headlines with the discovery of a possibly royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings --and with his sudden and mysterious death the night after the tomb door was breached. The popular press is playing up the idea of supernatural ancient curses, particularly since the archaeologist working for him is now missing. Baskerville's widow, who was acquainted with Radcliffe years ago, now appeals to him to take charge of the excavation. And not all the mysteries he and Amelia will need to unravel are those of the ancient past!

Unlike the one in the first book, the mystery here definitely involves murder. It's also much more challenging; here, I didn't spot the culprit from the outset. (I had my suspicions as the book wore on, but I was still left guessing until the denouement.) One aspect of the resolution doesn't hold up well logically, but it's a secondary one; strictly speaking, this is a four-and-a-half star read on that account, but I rounded up.

Again, Peter's characterizations are very well-drawn. Amelia's drily-humorous, deadpan narration can be an absolute scream in places; especially reading the early parts, set in England, I laughed out loud in several places (which I didn't do with the first book). Both the milieus of Victorian England and late-19th century Egypt are brought to masterful life here, and the author does a wonderful job in making use of actual ancient Egyptian mythology and lore and incorporating some real-life archaeological references into the tale.

Amelia's character is the make-or-break factor here. Some readers (including my son-in-law, and a Goodreads friend who's reviewed this book) don't like her at all; and they aren't without reason for their reaction. She's got a hefty element of vanity and bossiness in her make-up, she's highly opinionated, and not as always right in her opinions as she complacently thinks she is; and she's not above trying to make herself seem more clever than she actually is. (Granted, she is smart --but she's not infallible.) Reverse sexism is one of her pet prejudices (she thinks much more highly of her husband than she does of most males, but they engage in plenty of one-upmanship with each other). And Catholic readers won't appreciate her passing comment about "the idolatrous practices of Popery" --though most English Protestants in 1889 shared her attitude. I mentioned in reviewing the first book that she doesn't like guns; in the intervening five years, she's learned to carry one in the field whether she likes it or not (and in an environment that's literally crawling with poisonous snakes, jackals, hyenas, and tomb robbers, that's a necessity), but she has a lot more to learn before she'll be a good example of safe and responsible handling of one.

For all that, though, she's a kind person who cares about the happiness of others around her, and wants to do her honest best to promote it; she's a much more doting mom than she lets on; she's not incapable of self-criticism; her guts, endurance for hardship, and willingness to sacrifice for others' needs are second to none; and it's obvious that she and Emerson really love each other to the core of their being, underneath all of their competition and occasional bluster --she'd die for him in a heartbeat, and he would for her. (In fact, in the one instance here where her usual cool head in an emergency deserts her, it's because she's frantic with fear for his safety.) So I can totally see why some book characters and some readers find her abrasive --but I can also totally see why Radcliffe loves her! She's the sort of rare literary creation who's one of a kind; you have to accept her and appreciate her as she is --sometimes wanting to give her a high five, sometimes wanting to scold her, occasionally laughing at her (or with her). But however you're reacting, she's apt to entertain you. This is one series I'm definitely going to continue to follow!

Roman Clodia

Five years of marriage have taught me that even if one is unamused by the (presumed) wit of one's spouse, one does not say so. Some concessions to temperament are necessary if the marital state is to flourish. And I must confess that in most respects the state agrees with me. Emerson is a remarkable person, considering that he is a man.

A second outing for Amelia, one of my favourite fictional characters, despite all her uncritical parroting of the strictures of the British Empire... With her trusty parasol in hand, now supplemented with a revolver (!), nothing and no-one can get the better of our trusty heroine as she and Emerson are faced with multiple murders at an archeological dig in the Valley of the Kings.

It's noticeable that the banter between Amelia and Emerson is spikier and funnier than in the later books where they can become a bit saccharine, and there's more archaeology in this one than in the first book. We also get a brief introduction to the divinely precocious Ramses, left behind in England, and meet some of the characters who become perennials later in the series: Abdullah, Vandergelt, Daoud, Kevin O'Connell.

Hilarious and feel-good escapism that nods at H. Rider Haggard and Sherlock Holmes with one eye on Christie's archaeological mysteries.


***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List***

It’s official—I adore Amelia Peabody-Emerson! Modern feminist sensibilities injected into a Victorian heroine. She loves her husband and her son, but she needs some mental stimulation and some physical labour to keep her occupied.

I loved that Radcliffe and Amelia have nicknamed their precocious son Ramses after the demanding and flamboyant Pharaoh. He takes after both of his parents, needless to say, in his intelligence and his firm opinions! I appreciate Amelia’s (sometimes unwarranted) self-confidence and her delight at being able to escape the boredom of motherhood and running a household. What could possibly be better than returning to Egypt to explore a newly discovered tomb with her beloved husband? Well, achieving that task while still having cooling baths at days end and tea whenever necessary, that’s what!

Peters manages to give us plenty of potential murderers and lots of unusual characters to provide intrigue and comedy. Amelia brandishes her parasol with abandon and barges her way to a solution with panache!


Imagine, if you will, that Lady Catherine de Bourgh from Pride and Prejudice is reincarnated towards the middle of the nineteenth century as a woman called Amelia Peabody. She develops an interest in archaeology, and marries an Egyptologist who is supposed, I think, to be stirringly alpha male but who is in fact emotionally and physically abusive. She delights in establishing how intelligent and feisty she is by denigrating other women, and spawns an obnoxiously precocious offspring who has a cutesy nickname, an even cutesier speech impediment and the ability to comprehend archaeological reports and offer opinions about them by the age of three. All this would have been irritating enough, but Peters caps it all off with godawful Orientalising tropes and an Irish character so overwhelmingly stereotypical (a redheaded freckled Irishman called O'Donnell who frequently says "top o' the morning" and "begorrah" and is compared to a leprechaun) that I'm surprised I didn't develop a facial tic while reading. Dreadful.


I want to quote V. Gingerich's wonderful review because it says it all.

"The Curse of the Pharaohs is all about voice: Amelia Peabody’s voice. This detective, Egyptologist, and mother of one narrates with wit and humor, puncturing Victorian decorum with her steel-tipped parasol, amazing the reader with her (sometimes stupid) bravery and her unique way of both adoring and defying her Egyptologist husband."

"Elizabeth Peters is Agatha Christie in an ancient Egyptian wig and headdress. Same train travel, same cast of startlingly unlikable characters (the kind where you want each of them to be the villain), same tea tables and crumpets (yes, tea, even in during an Egyptian heatwave), same twists and side alleys."

Above all, I love the way Peters writes. She combines humor, quaint turns of phrase, fantastic vocabulary, a little romance and detailed atmosphere in a well told mystery. I love that she addresses the reader - so unique. I enjoyed the introduction of Ramses in this second of the series. It is hard to believe she could make a toddler so quirky and interesting. She paints such vivid and dimensional characters. I thought her relationship with Emerson would lose some spice now that they are married but no! It is as funny and endearing as ever.

Only giving this a 3.5 though as it much of it seemed to repeat scenarios from the first book. Also, the plethora of murders was overboard for me. It was hard to take them seriously after a point. And some bits just lagged. It won't discourage me from going on in the series though. Her writing is totally unique.