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A Spectacular Treasure Brings a Dark Afrit to the Emersons
on 27 May 2005
As the war years recede, Elizabeth Peters is able to bring the Amelia Peabody and her family back to familiar territory and plots . . . except with everyone older and wiser.
Set in 1922, you won't find many contemporary references. In a way that's good because this book could have occurred in virtually any year from 1860 through to 1935.
Magda Petherick is the first of several people to barge in on Amelia Peabody and her family as the story opens. Mrs. Petherick is the recent widow of Pringle Petherick who has assembled a renowned collection of Egyptian antiquities. Mrs. Petherick reveals one of his last purchases, an unbelievably gorgeous golden head that is supposed to be cursed. She asks that Emerson take charge of putting the head back where it came from in order to avoid the curse. She says she has seen a dark spirit twice and fears that the third time will cost her life.
But Mrs. Petherick is also a famous vampire novelist, and it seems too convenient to be a true story. Could it be simply a publicity stunt?
Those concerns begin to draft away when Mrs. Petherick disappears and Amelia's household is disrupted by regular intrusions that seem aimed at capturing the head.
In the meantime, Amelia persuades Emerson to let Ramses pursue his translation work rather than toiling constantly in excavation work.
Before long, the attacks become more serious . . . and threaten the whole family!
While no single aspect of this story is outstanding, there is considerable balance in the tale. The narration alternates between Amelia and Ramses. About a dozen characters have decent development in the story. I found that the book built momentum as it went on, and I enjoyed the second half more than the first.
Elizabeth Peters does an unusually good job of foreshadowing future stories in the series through Amelia's dreams and little hints of character development to come. For example, Ramses finds that he has made conflicting promises to his wife, Nefret, and to another woman. Which promise will he honor? How will Nefret react in the future if Ramses doesn't keep his word to her? The twins have become four-year-old wunderkinds. You can get a sense of their potential to be like the young Ramses and Nefret in the future. With Emerson and Amelia showing no signs of slowing down, things could become livelier.
One of the problems with recent novels in the series has been that the extended family has become so large that involving them often makes the stories unwieldy. I felt that that problem was greatly reduced in The Serpent on the Crown.
The book's main weakness is that the suspense is pretty modest because the probable villains and their likely motives are too transparent for the book's own good. But in the same way that you can enjoy a pleasant cruise that takes you where you've been before, the journey can still be rewarding . . . and it was.