by Elizabeth Peters
Published 1991, 1992
These next two installments of the Amelia Peabody series were possibly my favorites so far. Basically, instead of following a traditional murder-mystery format, in which someone is murdered and we spend the rest of the book gathering clues and eliminating possible perpetrators, Peters creates crazy situations and revels in them. They are still within the realm of possibility (there is no magic or miraculous occurrences), but they are pushing the boundaries, so to speak.
The Last Camel Dies at Noon is, actually, a literal title. In the first chapter, we find the Emerson family (Amelia, Emerson, and son Ramses), along with a servant/guide struggling across the desert, and their last camel dies at noon, leaving them in desperate straits. We then backtrack, and learn all the story that has led up to this point. It’s not a method that I always enjoy, but because we have been traveling with Amelia through several books, this doesn’t feel like a gimmick at all.
The story is intense and intriguing and kept me on my toes up until the very last page. A definite win.
The next story actually ties in closely (these are books that should definitely be read in series order), as in the Last Camel Died at Noon the Emersons discovered a sort of “lost city” and have promised to never reveal its location. In The Snake, the Crocodile, & the Dog, someone has guessed the secret they know and is desperate to find the city’s location. Throughout this book I was frustrated at times by things that didn’t really seem to make sense to me, but Peters did a magnificent job of pulling everything together in the end – this is one of those books that I almost wanted to sit down and read again right away, now that I held the key.
Per usual, my main beef with these books is Emerson’s negative commentary on religion that exists for virtually no reason. Amelia joins in herself sometimes, like this passage from The Last Camel:
I would not be at all surprised to find that it was for gold that Cain committed the first murder. (It happened a very long time ago, and Holy Writ, though no doubt divinely inspired, is a trifle careless about details. God is not a historian.)
Okay, first off, this is COMPLETELY unnecessary to the plot. Basically, she’s only mentioning Cain so she can make a jab at God’s apparent inability to keep track of what’s really happening through history.
Secondly, the whole statement is completely false. God actually is, in fact, a historian, since the majority of His scriptures are history. He is incredibly detailed (some would actually say too detailed), and the whole first murder is recorded at length. Cain’s motive is explained quite thoroughly (Genesis 4 if you’re interested): God had regard for Abel’s offering and none for Cain’s; Cain murdered his brother from jealousy, and gold was not involved in any way, manner, shape or form. But this is typical of Peter’s/Peabody’s narrative. Usually I just brush over it, but when it is so obviously only thrown in for shock points it is especially aggravating.
However, I am greatly enjoying these mysteries overall and do recommend them as fun, spirited, and entertaining reads.