Crocodile on the Sandbank

by Elizabeth Peters

Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters Crocodile on the Sandbank, first published in 1975, launches the Amelia Peabody mystery series and introduces the intrepid Miss Peabody, who in the "supposedly enlightened decade of 1880" has just inherited a fortune. At thirty-one, unencumbered by a husband, she sets out to see the world. In Rome, she is briefly delayed rescuing a young woman who, having been seduced and betrayed by an Italian fortune-hunter and disinherited, is an heiress no longer. Hiring Evelyn as her companion, Amelia sets off for Egypt. Hordes of treasure-hunting archaeologists are looting its ancient tombs, capturing the touristic imagination.

As a self-respecting Englishwoman of her time, Amelia instinctively disdains the peculiarities of foreigners. Besides Evelyn's Italian seducer, there are the Egyptian villagers who seem content to live in squalor, and the French who are doing a miserably sloppy job taking care of Egypt's antiquities. Nevertheless, Amelia enjoys a good adventure. Her first pyramid is a revelation, "a horrid place--stifling air, debris crunching underfoot, the dusk barely disturbed by the flickering candles held by our guides. I reveled in every moment of it ..." She also rather revels in her acquaintance with Radcliffe Emerson, a ferocious archaeologist who gives her a tongue-lashing in a Cairo museum for dusting off a relic with her handkerchief. She tongue-lashes him right back, foreshadowing the battle of wits to come.

So forceful a personality is Amelia, so humorous and full of momentum is the story of her Egyptian adventure, readers may come up for breath midway through and find themselves startled to realize no murder has yet occurred. There is, however, the mystery of the mummy who walks at night, terrifying Evelyn and the native workers at Emerson's archaeological site, and worrying Amelia enough to persuade her she must find out what is really going on. There is also a diabolical villain to be unmasked. It's a strong start that shows why this series has won a devoted following. (1975; most editions run between 260 and 275 pages)

More about Crocodile on the Sandbank at Powell's Books or

See the complete list of Amelia Peabody mysteries

Other mysteries featuring British men and women in Egypt:

The Egyptian Coffin by Jane Jakeman (1997), about a reclusive aristocrat who travels to Egypt to protect an heiress after he learns of a young girl's death; #2 in the Lord Ambrose Malfine mystery series. More info

The Mamur Zapt and the Return of the Carpet by Michael Pearce (1988), about a British official who must calm tensions when a political assassination attempt is made shortly before a religious festival; #1 in the Mamur Zapt series. More info

Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie (1924), a short-story collection which includes "The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb," in which Hercule Poirot travels to Egypt to solve a mystery - a contemporary setting when it was written in the 1920s. More info

Nonfiction about Egypt and archaeology in the late nineteenth century:

Amelia Peabody's Egypt: A Compendium by Elizabeth Peters (2003), a blend of nonfiction and fiction which includes "biographies" of Amelia and her family. More info

The Rape of the Nile: Tomb Robbers, Tourists and Archaeologists in Egypt by Brian M. Fagan (1975; revised edition 2004). More info

Flinders Petrie: A Life in Archaeology by Margaret S. Drower (1985), a life of the archaeologist of whose methods Radcliffe Emerson least disapproved. More info


Amarna Project, a website devoted to the ongoing archaeological research and protection efforts at Tell el-Amarna, the archaeological site in Crocodile on the Sandbank

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