Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ode to Barbara Mertz

Today, Kerry Hammond offers a tribute to Barbara Mertz (AKA Elizabeth Peters).

Earlier this month the New York Times announced the death of Egyptologist and mystery author Barbara Mertz, known to many as Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels.  In her 85 years of life, Dr. Mertz finished a bachelors degree at the University of Chicago, then went on to get a master’s degree, and then a PhD in Egyptology.  She wrote 3 non-fiction books relating to archeology; 38 books under the name Elizabeth Peters, mostly mysteries; and 30 under the name Barbara Michaels, mostly gothic or supernatural thrillers.

I wanted to pay homage to Dr. Mertz by talking about two feisty females she created: Amelia Peabody and Vicky Bliss.  Both characters had a series devoted to them and were written under the nom de plume Elizabeth Peters, a derivation using the first names of her children.  

The first Amelia Peabody book was written in 1975, but is set in the late 1800s.  Amelia is an extremely fun  character who struggles with the limitations placed on women of her time.  She meets her husband, Emerson, at an archeological dig, and they go on to excavate all over Egypt and the Middle East.  Mertz wrote 19 books in the series, all with wonderful titles like He Shall Thunder the Sky and The Last Camel Died at Noon.  Amelia and Emerson meet, get married, and have a son that they name Ramses.  As time passes their adventures just get more and more interesting.  Ramses grows up and eventually has a family of his own throughout the series, which ends with A River in the Sky, set in the early 1900s.

The audio version of these books are read by Barbara Rosenblat, who is one of the best female audio voices around. She performs these books as an actress performs on a stage.  She is able to bring the characters to life and create unique accents and voices for each and every one.  I can only hope that Dr. Mertz was as pleased with her performances as I have been.  

The Vicky Bliss series is a bit smaller, containing only 6 books, and is also written under the name Elizabeth Peters.  Vicky is a professor of art history and these books contain international intrigue, a quirky German boss, and a love interest who just happens to be an art thief.  If you read closely, you will even find a connection to the characters in the Amelia Peabody series in Night Train to Memphis and The Laughter of Dead Kings.

Dr. Mertz will be missed by millions of fans worldwide, and I know that generations to come will enjoy her books as much as I have. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for a great post Kerry. I read Elizabeth Peters early on when discovering mysteries, loved them and just kept going. This is a fitting tribute.