Much to my delight there seems to be no end to the output of Elizabeth Peters. My count of the inside cover list of this recent reissue (which was first published in 1970) lists 31 novels, which is an astounding output. Especially since they are rarely repetitious and also have plenty of the old Peters charm. While she tends to write 'comfy' mysteries, with a romantic twist, she manages to provide basic entertainment for all her readers. Another surprise for the reader is how well her stories hold up to time. Even this one, set in the Middle East, is as fresh as if it had been written yesterday
"The Dead Sea Cipher" is somewhat more serious than the Peabody series or "Summer of the Dragon," but it still has plenty of humorous touches. When singer Dinah van der Lyn overhears an argument and murder in her Beirut hotel room she finds that her archeological tour through the Middle East is to be perpetually interrupted by a procession of spies and government officials. Two of these, Tony Cartwright and Geoffrey Smith, seem to crop up everywhere but the bathroom. She knows that at least one of them is a spy, but is never sure which.
Dinah becomes more and more frustrated as her tour of sites from Byblos to Jerusalem is perpetually disturbed by the appearance of one or the other of these gentleman. Both want her to reveal what she overheard, and neither believes that she knows nothing. Despite that fact that she has no understanding of Arabic. She manages to work out that Tony, Jeff, and a whole host of other agents are chasing after rumors of a new set of Dead Sea scrolls. Even that information is of little help to her in what becomes a comic peripatetic chase through archeological sites and ancient churches.
Common to all Peters novels, there is no lack of gem-like characters. Dinah finds herself touring in a touring limousine with French newlyweds, a British widow, a priest, a doctor, and a Dutch diplomat with his attaché. Dinah suspects all of them at one time or another. Certainly, all contribute to the confusion as they seem to tumble towards the surprise conclusion. This isn't so much a 'whodunnit' as it is a 'whatisgoingon' type novel. As usual, it is all over too soon, and we find ourselves wishing for yet another Peters novel with its own fresh and audacious heroine.