Monday, July 24, 2017

The Painted Queen by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess

Kerry Hammond is here today to review a much awaited final installment to the Amelia Peabody mystery series.

Elizabeth Peters is the pen name that Egyptologist Barbara Mertz used to bring us one of the funniest, boldest, most outspoken and unconventional heroines of the fictional world. In 1975 Mertz created Amelia Peabody and brought us the first book in what would turn out to be a 20 book series that would be published over a period of more than 40 years. The stories followed Amelia, an Egyptologist with a sharp wit and an even sharper parasol. Loved by her family and friends, and revered by the locals of any dig she happened to be working, she was called the Sitt Hakim, or lady doctor. Her exploits were brought to us in the form of a discovered set of journals she penned from 1884-1923, chronicling each dig she and her husband Radcliffe Emerson ever participated in. The Amelia Peabody series is, in my opinion, one of the best written and most entertaining mystery series to ever hit bookshelves.

In 2013 the mystery world lost Barbara Mertz and fans around the world mourned the passing of a great writer. The last project she was working on was left unfinished; her final Amelia Peabody installment had been researched and partially plotted, but was not yet written. Mertz was very close friends with mystery author Joan Hess, and Hess had even accompanied Mertz on one of her yearly research trips to Egypt. When the question was asked—who would be the best person to take on the task of completing the final manuscript—it seemed that all eyes turned to Hess, who immediately refused. She felt she couldn’t possibly continue the work that Mertz had begun, reproducing such a unique and wonderful voice. She eventually gave in to the pleas and what we have today is the final Amelia Peabody story. A posthumous tribute to Mertz, a gift to her fans, and a way to bid farewell to characters we have come to know and love.

The Painted Queen may be the last book in the series, but in the timeline of archeological digs, it falls closer to the middle of Amelia and Emerson’s adventures. The year is 1912 and our intrepid archeologists have just arrived in Cairo and checked into the Shepheard Hotel to recover from their journey. No sooner does Amelia treat herself to a bubble bath, when an assassin enters her bathroom to kill her. Instead of completing his mission, he falls dead on the floor by her tub, murdered by an unknown protector. It is quickly learned that the dead assassin did not act alone, and Amelia’s life is threatened by several more attackers, each one determined to exact his revenge.

Not even a group of assassins can stop Amelia from her passion, and she and Emerson travel to Amarna to oversee another archaeologist's dig where they become involved in the discovery of a bust of Nefertiti, a priceless treasure that many a man would kill to own. We also discover that lurking behind the scenes is the Master Criminal, Sethos, who intends to keep Amelia safe when her husband can’t.

I was immensely pleased to have one more chance to visit with Amelia. I enjoyed the fast paced action, the humor, and the intrigue. I think Hess did an admirable job of piecing together the documents left by Mertz and bringing them to life. She gave us an exciting last adventure and managed to capture the essence of the series and the characters. It was a wonderful end to such a great series, and now that I’ve finished the book I plan to do what any loyal fan would do next. I plan to start reading the series all over again.


  1. I purchased The Painted Queen expecting the same level of writing I came to expect from Ms. Peters. What a disappointment! The characters, especially the males, were extremely out of character and many conmments were made that were false. Ramses never gave himself the sobriquet "brother of demons' and certainly never shouted it at people to intimidate them. Nefret was not a blonde. Emerson seemed unsure of himself and whenever she got herself into stupid situations he nearly cried when recovering her, telling her he could not live without her. Ramses never used a very coarse and vulgar word which I won't mention. According to a previous book there were no crocodiles left in the Nile. Sethos behaves in a silly and ineffectual way and Abdullah would never have told Amelia he was ready to give up on her, she would insist on going "on her merry way". And more... One would believe the author never even read the other books. There was effort put into this but I think the bottom line is she simply does not have the same personality and mind-set Ms. Peters had. I didn't keep the book.

    1. I'm so sorry to hear this, Beverly. I think there is always a danger that the series won't be the same when another writer co-authors or takes it over.