Who knows how it happens. One day you pick up the 13th book in a mystery series, and the magic just isn't there any more. The characters don't appear as fresh or as interesting as they once did, and the plot leaves you wishing you'd opted for a racy romance novel. It's difficult writing mysteries in series. Characters are expected to evolve and meet unique challenges in each new book, but sooner or later, some appear only as mere shadows of themselves. There is, however, an exception. The characters that spring from the fertile mind of Elizabeth Peters have never grown stale. The Ape Who Guards the Balance is the latest in the series and the 10th installment in the unusual life of Victorian Egyptologist Amelia Peabody Emerson. Together with her sexy, irascible husband, Radcliffe; handsome son, Ramses; his loyal friend David; and her lovely, trouble-seeking ward, Nefret, Amelia is once again up to her exquisite neck in crafty criminals and Egyptian tombs. The year is 1907, and as another archaeological season begins in Egypt even Professor Radcliffe Emerson's brilliant reputation is of little use in securing a choice excavation site. His less than diplomatic nature has landed the family another boring concession digging in the Valley of the Kings. Just as Amelia decides that there's nothing she can do but keep a stiff upper lip, Nefret, now a young heiress, purchases a mint-condition papyrus of the famed Book of the Dead. This ancient collection of magical spells and prayers designed to ward off the perils of the underworld soon proves to be the key to the mystery that plunges Amelia into renewed dangers with old enemies.

In addition to grave robbers and bold villains, this adventure also provides another encounter with Sethos, the elusive Master Criminal who made his first appearance in The Mummy Case. As expected, Sethos's flagrant attempts to impress his beloved Amelia still outrage Radcliffe, but one begins, perhaps unwisely, to soften to his charm. In The Ape Who Guards the Balance, readers will see yet another facet of Sethos's enigmatic and captivating personality.

Devotees who have followed Amelia Peabody since her first encounter with Radcliffe Emerson in Crocodile on the Sandbank should be prepared to see Ramses now grown to manhood and every bit as brilliant and appealing as his father. The Emerson's ward, the beautiful Nefret, who Amelia rescued from an isolated and forgotten desert oasis in The Last Camel Died at Noon, has been transformed from a 13-year-old Priestess of Isis into a tantalizing young woman quite unaware of Ramses's growing fascination with her. Unfortunately, some characters in any mystery series must, sooner or later, be phased out. One might remember, with sorrow, the passing of the cat Bastet. In this newest addition to the series, readers should be prepared one of the oldest and best loved characters meets a noble end.

In Elizabeth Peters's delightful Amelia Peabody series, the magic is still there, and the characters and plots just keep getting better.

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