by Elizabeth Peters
Trojan Gold – published 1987
Night Train to Memphis – published 1994
The Laughter of Dead Kings – published 2008
I was going to review these books separately, but I’ve already read all three, so it kind of makes sense to just combine them into one entry.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed the Vicky Bliss books, but not nearly as much as the Amelia Peabody mysteries. I’ve tried to determine why that is, and I’m still not exactly sure. I do think that a large reason for the preference has to do with my so-called old-fashioned sensibilities. In short: I don’t like stories where the main characters are sleeping together but aren’t married. Don’t get me wrong, Peters’s books are not steamy, graphic romances. But just like in the Peabody books, there is plenty of innuendo (plus just the fact that they’re always sharing a bedroom), and while it was fine with the Peabody books, it really bothered me in the Vicky books, and I think it really just came down to the unmarried thing. In the Peabody books, Amelia and Emerson were a married, loyal, devoted, madly-in-love couple, and that carried on throughout the entire series (which covered about three decades of time). They were a team; they trusted each other implicitly; they were partners in everything that they did. But with Vicky, her main love interest ends up being John Smythe (later found to be John Tregarth). In the beginning, John is a thief, but he “goes straight” in Night Train to Memphis, and proves his determination to be honest in The Laughter of Dead Kings. But John and Vicky never marry. Not only that, Vicky doesn’t trust John and further than she could throw him, and both of them frequently prove themselves to be working as two individuals rather than a team (often they aren’t even working towards the same goal…). I just couldn’t work up any warm feelings for them as a couple, and it really hampered my overall enjoyment of the series.
My second big problem with the series was that it wasn’t really focused. The Emersons belonged in Egypt, and their setting felt incredibly authentic and realistic. A month or so after finishing that series, I was reading a book about Egypt in the 1910’s, and almost felt like I should run across them in the history pages. Vicky, however, jumps all over in regards to historical artifacts (although the last two books are in Egypt and hang together a bit more), and even as regards her actual place in history. As you can see, the books are published very far apart, but Peters basically sets each book in its current time, even though her characters are only aging a year or two at a time. She even says in a foreword to The Laughter of Dead Kings that she can do that because she’s the author, and authors are the gods of the worlds they create, so if she wants someone to be 29 in 1987 and 32 in 2008 she can do it. And that’s fine as far as it goes, but someone annoying as a reader, to have characters that felt very firmly in the 1980’s at the beginning be using text messaging and emails in the final book.
Even though I’ve griped about them, though, I did like the books just fine. While I didn’t really care for Vicky or John very much, I greatly enjoyed some of the secondary characters, especially Vicky’s boss, Schmidt. The mysteries were well-paced and engaging, especially Night Train to Memphis. Peters’s writing is solid, and I’m definitely planning to read the rest of her books. I’ve discovered that Elizabeth Peters is not her real name, and that she’s written books under other names, too, so add those to the list of things I need to look up!