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, www.goodreads.com/review/show/83042190
, 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!