Amelia Peabody is back, but this time she’s not returning to Egypt, her usual stomping ground. The 19th installment in this immensely popular series finds Elizabeth Peters’ iconoclast detective in Palestine, where she’s gone with her husband, the famous (and devastatingly handsome) Egyptologist, Radcliffe Emerson, to stop a careless adventurer from wrecking archaeological havoc while searching for the Ark of the Covenant. That would be enough to motivate Amelia to save the day—but there’s concern within the British government that Morley is not just archaeologically inept, but also a German spy.
Amelia’s son, Ramses, is already in Palestine, working on a dig. Before his family can reach him, he’s taken prisoner, caught in the middle of a nefarious scheme involving forgery and international intrigue.
What follows is all those things readers love about Peters’ novels: perfectly paced suspense, biting wit and fascinating tidbits about ancient cultures. It’s a pleasure to dip back into the Emersons’ lives. Instead of continuing their story after World War I, Peters has chosen to cover some more of their “lost years,” this time taking us back to 1910, and it’s a delight to once again see Amelia and Emerson at the peak of their physical prowess (yes, Amelia has prowess), and to see Ramses and his friend (more like a brother), David, honing the skills that will serve them so well in the future.
Peters is well established as a master when it comes to character development, and she takes full opportunity to further flesh out our old friends in this book. Emerson has always viewed religion with more than casual skepticism, and putting him in the Holy Land is a treat for readers. He and Amelia spar about theology in the way only they can—acerbic and humorous all at once. The dialogue between the two is a consistent highlight throughout the series.
Best of all, Peters, with a PhD in Egyptology from the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, can always be relied on to present readers with an accurate, well-researched view of the historical periods in which she sets her books. She gets every detail right, from archaeological techniques to cultural mores. A River in the Sky is a charming, entertaining read, full of all the good things we expect from Amelia Peabody. Including her infamous steel-tipped parasol.
Tasha Alexander is the author of the Lady Emily Ashton series. She lives in Chicago, unfortunately without a parasol of any sort.