The Ape Who Guards the Balance (Amelia Peabody, #10)

By Elizabeth Peters

9,794 ratings - 4.2* vote

The Ape Who Guards the Balance begins in 1907 in England where Amelia is attending a suffragettes' rally outside the home of Mr. Geoffrey Romer of the House of Commons. It seems Romer is one of the few remaining private collectors of Egyptian antiquities, and a series of bizarre events at the protest soon embroil Amelia in grave personal danger. Suspecting that the Master The Ape Who Guards the Balance begins in 1907 in England where Amelia is attending a suffragettes' rally outside the

... more

Book details

Paperback, 464 pages
May 1st 1999 by Avon

(first published 1998)

Original Title
The Ape Who Guards the Balance
0380798565 (ISBN13: 9780380798568)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


I enjoy every book in this series but this was one of the really, really good ones! It appears that someone out there is trying to get to Amelia for evil purposes and the whole family is drawn into the action.

I love the way the author is developing all her characters in these latest books. The children are definitely children no longer and have their own agenda, some of which we learn about from Ramses' own manuscript. We get to see their view of Amelia too which is fun since previously we only had Amelia's own opinion of herself.

As usual the story is convoluted and way beyond my attempts at guessing who is doing what and why. I just go with the flow and enjoy the overall effect. In this book several baddies from the past show up and one at least is removed permanently. I am sure the others will return in a future book! I am already looking forward to it:)


London 1906: Amelia Peabody Emerson has become involved in the Women's Social and Political Union. She is looking forward to chaining herself to the fence of 10 Downing Street and being arrested for protesting for the right to vote. Something strange happens and she discovers that an MP notorious for being anti-woman suffrage has invited a friend to come to his home to present a petition. Therefore, Amelia is not entirely surprised when the police report the MP and his staff were tied up and impersonated while his collection of antiquities was stolen. This can only be the work of one man-The Master Criminal himself-Sethos. It seems he is alive and well with a new network in Europe. How could this be? Does this mean their upcoming dig in Luxor will be uneventful? Hardly. Amelia is abducted before she even leaves for Egypt and Emerson fears Sethos is after his wife again. In Egypt, Ramses and David meet a devious antiquities dealer who sells them an ancient scroll of the dead which sets off a chain reaction of events that may or may not be connected to the mysterious happenings back in London before their departure. No one is going to take any chances this time. The only hope of thwarting the criminal/s is to stick together. They can only do this with full cooperation and trust on all sides, which only works when the adults treat the children like the adults they now are. Meanwhile, Emerson is seriously annoyed when he is denied yet again a permit to dig for tombs and an amateur dilettante is allowed to ruin a potentially important site!

Some characters refuse to leave a reader even long after the book is finished. Amelia Peabody Emerson is one of those characters. I often find myself thinking "What would Amelia say to that? What would Amelia do?" and "Emerson would blow a gasket!" or "Emerson would be so excited to learn..." So naturally, I needed to pick up their adventures once again. The book title confused me, not being familiar with this particular Egyptian myth. It refers to the god Thoth, a divine scribe, who waits for the heart of the dead to be weighed on a scale and judged. He then records its fate. Thoth is usually represented as having the head of an ibis, but also appears as a baboon or ape with the balancing scales. In this novel, the ape that guards the balance is a symbol of an emerging women's rights organization in Egypt.

This story incorporates a lot of religious teachings from Ancient Egyptian stories to the Koran to the Christian Bible. The point is to show how the Peabody Emersons reconcile the different beliefs and how each family member has their own personal idea of faith (or none at all). I found it all a bit confusing and unnecessary to the plot. I also found Amelia to be a little more sanctimonious than usual. She can't help being a woman of her time and place and it gives her a certain amount of prejudice than she usually reserves for bossing around the "natives." This time her beliefs affect her family. I lost some admiration for her because of it.

The only other thing I really didn't like about the story was the teen angst. Ramses is 19 now, a man by Egyptian standards. Nefret has come of age and inherited a fortune and a rebellious attitude from her foster brothers. As is typical with an older generation, they refuse to admit their babies are grown up and capable of handling serious situations and understanding everything that is happening around them. The young adults are rebellious, lovesick and have secrets of their own. I didn't like the parts of the book that were not told by Amelia. The switch in viewpoint is a bit jarring and the young people annoyed me. Ramses especially did not appeal to me. I could have done without his strong emotions. Then there's another romantic subplot that took everyone by surprise. It's not very believable or interesting.

However, I couldn't put the book down. I kept getting interrupted and distracted by the rest of the household (which is why I usually stay up all night reading because it's the only uninterrupted quiet time I have). The disruptions prevented me from fully understanding everything that happened in the story so I need to reread parts of it. The plot contained enough suspense and red herrings that I didn't know how to connect the dots. I connected the dots to the villain after Amelia realized who it must be. I suspected another person and was surprised at their motivation for hanging around the Peabody Emersons. I did not suspect THAT at all! The conclusion was a little too neat and tidy to want to immediately read the next book in the series. That will have to wait for spring break or next winter's break. The research is top notch as always but I wish there was a timeline to understand which dynasty corresponds to how many years before Common Era and a cheat sheet of the Egyptian pharaohs, family members and deities. I have to read an e-book next time so I can look up references as I read.

I love Amelia and Emerson so much. They're so fleshed out and believable. They live inside my head perceptually. I adore their loving relationship. I like that they're still romantic and in love after all these years. They had better be after what they went through! They still want to be intimate. Emerson is gruff as always but he loves his family and would do anything to protect them. It's clear Nefret is a Daddy's girl! I didn't like how she uses typical feminine wiles to get what she wants, even if it's for a good reason. Most of her behavior represents the "New Woman" of the 20th century: physically fit, fearless and free. Her reform efforts are admirable and the debate and discussion is one that is relevant today. Amelia wants to be a New Woman but is held back by her Victorian morals. Ramses is possibly even more annoying than he was as a 7 year old. He's a know-it-all like his parents and very angsty. David is the only one of the children who didn't annoy me at some point, for most of the novel anyway.

Almost all the characters have been met before. Cyrus Vandergelt makes a few appearances, along with his wife Katherine. I didn't remember her at all but I remember the American cowboy type Cyrus. He still has a big heart and open, friendly nature. The newest characters are Ned, a novice archeologist in the pay of Theodore M. Davis, a rich dilettante Egyptologist. Ned is a nervous type and every time he was on page I cringed because he couldn't stand up to Emerson's temper and it wasn't his fault proper procedure wasn't followed. Davis is a British chap of the old school "jolly good, what ho" and all that. (er apparently he's American but sounds British). He knows nothing about Egypt and cares nothing for actual scholarship. I can empathize with Emerson. (If I were a man of that time, I would probably be a lot like Emerson).

Read this series if you like humorous mysteries, Ancient Egypt and Victorian/Edwardian unconventional suffragette heroines. Don't start here though! Read them in order.

Lots of curses and not from Emerson, but his children! They toss off the D-word a lot. The "children" are also asserting their independence by drinking and smoking.
The Emerson-Peabodys/Peabody-Emersons (depending on the book) drink a lot of whisky-for medicinal purposes you know!

Jamie Collins

Very entertaining. I'm enjoying the later books in this series even more than the earlier ones. I am entirely amused by the teen-aged Ramses, now sometimes addressed as "Mr. Emerson" and sometimes dressed in the height of fashion for an Edwardian English gentleman. But mostly he is in Egypt with his parents and his adopted sister and cousin, excavating ancient Egyptian tombs and investigating murders.

Amelia Peabody is still deservedly the star of the story, but I think the scenes that are written from the point of view of the "children" add a nice dimension. I enjoy the way Ramses thoroughly understands his parents.


April 2019: on audio, read by Samantha Eggar. This is the first Amelia Peabody where I cried, and I cry every time. There is so much absurdity in this one too, from the hijacking of the votes for women movement by antiquities thieves onward. Magnificent.

June 2017: It is odd to be reading this one amid the later Amelia Peabodys (Peabodies?) but gosh is this one good! The cast is perfect, the mystery is sharp, and outside of The Falcon at the Portal there's not another Peters book with as believable strong emotion.

I'm feeling the need to read them all again, maybe in chronological-to-the-Emersons order, or maybe in published order so I can be startled at how a genre author developed her style...or just at random as I have been since I really ought to know the story arc anyway by now.


Elizabeth Peter's Ape in the Balance is the 10th of her Amelia Peabody series. Peabody – as she is mostly called – is both an Egyptologist and a detective, as is the rest of her family. She is both privileged (social class, financially, intellectually) and also concerned with issues of social justice – from the perspective of the times (about 1905). In fact, this concern with social justice and the rights of women is one of the factors contributing to the book's received its name:

I adored the bantering in the first 40 or so pages:
“I suspect, however, that what puts her off is the fact that your father is inclined to call me Amelia only when he is vexed with me. He generally uses my maiden name as a term of commendation and— er— affection. Now, Emerson, don’t glare at me, you know it is true; I have seen the poor child start convulsively when you bellow ‘Curse it, Amelia!’ in that tone of voice.” (p. 27)
After that, both the book and the banter tiresome. This is a handsome, talented, courageous, intelligent family who make some mistakes, but very few of these. The Greek and Roman gods made more.

Even more tiresome, other characters are also drawn dichotomously: foolish or wise and compassionate. I didn't feel like I learned more about the people, archaeology, or Egypt, where this book and series are largely set. In fact, most people outside the family were only sketched.

The mystery itself was interesting, but not interesting enough. The relationships are interesting, but I wanted to take Peabody's and Emerson's adult children aside to inform each of the other's interest. (Their one blindspot.)

In sum, a good read, but after its early promise, was disappointing.


I bought this at a recent book fair as it was one I had not read. I really enjoyed this series years ago. I liked that this author was grounded in everything Egypt with a firm foundation at Univ of Chicago; I liked the family dynamics and witty dialogue; I liked Amelia's ever-present tool belt, her intelligence and determination mixed with dedication; I enjoyed the archaeological info and adventures as well as the many imprisonments/kidnappings of this crazy pair of Emerson and his wife.
This one finds Ramses (Amelia's son) as 6-foot young man plus top hat outside a certain Downing St address where lady suffragettes have asked him to help with constable management when his mother arrives with her chains and parasol ready to be chained to iron fencing. It works out quite differently from what the suffragettes had anticipated as a disguised gang breaks into the house to steal the prime minister's collection of Egyptian artifacts.
And that's just the first few pages.
Villains and friends from old make their appearances and it was pleasant to drop in on old friends, but the immediacy of the series is a lost thing for me.

Becca Martinson

If you've never read Elizabeth Peters, you should begin with the first in this series (Crocodile in the Sandbank) and work your way up as this is one of the later novels. Amelia Peabody Emerson is a fantastically stereotypical Victorian heroine- snappy, sharp, and utterly convinced of her own take of the world. Set in turn of the 19th/20th Century Egypt against the backdrop of the heyday of the great ancient Egyptian discoveries by the likes of Carter and his cohorts, these books are fast paced, fun, and have enough mystery to keep the reader interested all the way through. The escapades of Amelia's hot-tempered and verbally gifted husband, her pharoanically nicknamed son, Ramses, and their extended family and household provide comic relief without being corny or contrived. A great read in an amazing series.


Just finished an audio re-read of this. As part of the "dark" internal series, I have avoided re-reading this for years. I am so glad I finally read it again. First, the audio version is fantastic, but more importantly, the story is just wonderful. Yes, there are definitely sad -- very sad -- moments. But there is so much growth in all the characters. I love how Ramses, Nefret, and David are coming into their own.

Okay, it's a mystery, and there are numerous mysteries, and they're rather more complicated in the earlier books in the series. But for me, the series is all about the characters, and I love where they are at the end of this book. On to the next in the series.

NOTE: Finished another re-listen on 06/22/19. Still love this and definitely give it an A, but definitely much sadness. On to Falcon at the Portal, before I can tackle the glory of He Shall Thunder in the Sky (yes, I skip Guardian of the Horizon in my re-read order because it was written much after both Falcon and Thunder).

NOTE: Finished another re-listen on 08/19/19. Agree with everything written aboe.


This story was different than the previous books because of the bad guys this time around.I love listening to the audiobooks so much!I loved the author and the narrator discussion at the end of the audiobook. What a treat!Narrated by Barbara Rosenblat


Dear Barbara Mertz:

Thank you for Amelia Peabody and all her hangers' on. You'll be missed.