Monday, September 8, 2008

42. The Last Camel Died at Noon

Amelia Peabody...eases the pain

The title: The Last Camel Died at Noon
The author: Elizabeth Peters
Publication: Warner Books, 1991
Got it from: Vancouver, 2001

Oops, I've painted myself into a corner. Ever since 2001, I vowed I'd read an Amelia Peabody mystery every year until I was finished all eighteen in the series. I'm a bit behind, because I keep missing years. Here's the problem: I'm hungry for more but I know I must wait another year. As Amelia's husband Emerson would say, "Curse it!"

For those of you who don't know, Amelia Peabody Emerson is the star of a series of Egyptology mysteries set around the turn of the 20th century. Those readers who don't share my enthusiasm for Egyptology are still urged to read them for the wonderful characters. The narrator of the story is Amelia herself, heiress to her late professor father's fortune and intrepid adventuress. Amelia is one of the most well-conceived female characters in literary history. Her witty observations, particularly about her husband, are a riot. She takes a no-nonsense attitude with everything, but she's secretly an incurable romantic. She's unstopable, particularly with her most trusty accomplice, her parasol, which she uses to frequently beat the snot out of anyone or anything who gets in her way. Then there's her temperamental husband, Emerson, who hates the world and everyone in it, except for his own family. He has a reputation as one of the most feared men in Egypt, and he's constantly tearing open his shirts, either in rage or in passion. (This prompts Amelia's most frequently-used phrase, "Another shirt ruined?" Her other phrase is "Another year, another dead body.") Then there's the Emersons' lovable, precocious brat of a son, Ramses, who will eventually grow up into a swoonbeast but for now is still a monkey who speaks several dead languages and disguises himself among natives to glean information. Naturally, the Emersons attract attention wherever they go and frequently stumble upon mysteries that they have to solve every digging season like clockwork.

This year's episode has the tireless threesome out in the desert, searching for a lost oasis that may or may not contain some friends who disappeared over a decade earlier. After nearly dying in the desert of thirst after their camels have all died (a reference to the book's title) they are whisked away to said mysterious oasis, restored to health and kept prisoners for some (as yet unknown) purpose. It's all very silly, of course, but the Emersons always make it enjoyable. The story is lifted straight out of H. Rider Haggard (whom Amelia is addicted to reading) and probably merits a B-grade romp, especially considering how the last third dragged a bit. What bumps it to the A-level is the hilarious one-liners. If I'd mark each spot that made me laugh out loud, the whole book would be marked up. Now if only I didn't have to wait until next year to continue the saga. It's like crack, I tells ya... A-

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