Home » Book Review » Silhouette in Scarlet

Silhouette in Scarlet


by Elizabeth Peters

Published 1983

In Vicky Bliss’s third appearance, she’s off to Stockholm at the invitation of the rascally “Sir” John Smythe.  We first met Smythe in Street of the Five Moonswhere he was involved in an art forgery scam.  Smythe is a lot like Peters’s character Sethos, whom we met regularly in the Amelia Peabody series, although Symthe was actually created first.  Truthfully, I think Peters improved on Smythe’s character when she invented Sethos, who is a stronger and somehow more admirable character than the very self-preserving Smythe.  Of course, I’ll freely admit that my old-fashioned morals are rather against Smythe as the main romantic character anyway, as I don’t have a strong appreciation for Vicky’s tendency to enjoy a few nights together here and there with absolutely zero commitment involved.  (Nothing graphic, mind you, which is something about Peters’s writing that I greatly appreciate.)

Still, even though I don’t like Vicky and Smythe as well as the Emerson clan, Silhouette in Scarlet was another fun romp.  These stories have  definite campy flavor, and the tongue-in-cheek attitude is perfectly delivered.  I’m also intrigued by the character of Schmidt, Vicky’s boss, who has gone from a rather ominous individual when we first met him in Borrower of the Night to:

Physically he’s a combination of the Wizard of Oz and Santa Claus – short, chubby, disgustingly cute.  Intellectually he ranks as one of the world’s greatest historians, respected by all his peers.  Emotionally…Ah, there’s the rub.  The non-professional parts of Schmidt’s brain are permanently frozen at fourteen years of age.  He thinks of himself as D’Artagnan, James Bond, Rudolf Rassendyll, Cline Eastwood, and Cyrano de Bergerac, all rolled into one.  This mental disability of Schmidt has been partially responsible for propelling me into a number of sticky situations.

And I must say that we mostly see the non-professional part of Schmidt’s character, making him appear rather goofy but lovable, although with the haunting question of whether he really is smart enough to be in charge of an entire famous museum.

Anyway, Vicky romps off to Stockholm, the city of her ancestors (“Roots!” she keeps exclaiming) and, of course, runs into all sorts of trouble, romantic and otherwise.

Peters writes first-person narrative perfectly, with just the right amount of inner dialogue (this sort of “What in the world have I done??” kind of attitude throughout) to make Vicky feel like a real person.  Per usual, I especially enjoy it when I understand a rather obscure reference:

The point of the dream was the chalice.  It had numerous mythic connotations – Arthurian legend, the Holy Grail, the chalice from the palace…No, that was from an old Danny Kaye movie.

As an aside, if you haven’t seen that old Danny Kaye movie, do yourself a favor and find it tonight. You won’t regret it.  And if you don’t feel like watching the whole thing, at least watch the best scene of the whole movie.  (Although Vicky is actually referring to this classic scene.)

Anyway, so far the Vicky Bliss books have been a win, although not as much of one as the Amelia Peabody series.  I’m halfway through, though, and looking forward to the rest.

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