The title: The Ape Who Guards the Balance
The author: Elizabeth Peters
Publication: Avon, 1998
Got it from: Maine, 2009
I've been having a hard time getting around to writing this review, for a number of reasons. If you've been following this blog for awhile, you know that I've been reading the Amelia Peabody series at the rate of approximately one book per year. This year I was finally going to catch up to myself, in a "this is where we came in" way. The Ape Who Guards the Balance was my very first Amelia Peabody mystery, which I read when I was seventeen, and it was my first introduction to the amazing Elizabeth Peters.
And then on August 8 of this year, Elizabeth Peters died. I was - or should say, am - heartbroken. Nobody wrote quite like her. No other author, with the exception maybe of L.M. Montgomery, has written more novels that I've enjoyed. She left behind an endlessly delightful body of work. To pick up an Elizabeth Peters (or her pseudonym Barbara Michaels) novel is to read an intelligent, funny, romantic book with a strong heroine. (Even the ones written in the 60's and 70's, a rare thing in itself). Any of her books is going to be a treat, but it's the Amelia Peabody series that she will be (deservedly) remembered for.
Reading this book, I felt like I was catching up with old friends. I remembered almost nothing from my original reading of it, so I was pleasantly surprised by the ending. The events of The Ape Who Guards the Balance take place in 1907. Owing to Emerson's feuds with various authorities, the clan are forced to excavate in a less-than-stellar site in the Valley of the Kings. The Victorian era is still very much present and the game of the day is to make the splashiest find with the most treasure. Somewhat humiliated but not deterred, the Emersons embark on their dig and it's not long before murder turns up.
Amelia Peabody is ever the proto-feminist and Peters cleverly weaves the early history of the women's suffrage movement into the story. "Pray do not detain me, Emerson," Amelia says calmly in what may be the most hilarious first page ever. "I am on my way to chain myself to the railings at Number Ten Downing Street, and I am already late." The Emersons' adopted daughter Nephret is also breaking barriers by becoming a medical student and she becomes a crusader for the grassroots women's education movement that is taking place in Egypt.
More and more the series is becoming focused on the children and large chunks of it are told as their diaries and memoirs. It's rather a shame, because nobody holds a candle to Amelia as a narrator, and the sexual tension between her son Ramses and Nephret isn't half as hot as that between Amelia and Emerson (and more shirts get ruined, obviously). And speaking of hot, the Master Criminal himself, Sethos shows up toward the end, which instantly sends the rating through the roof for me. (I don't want to spoil anything but that train scene at the end - *dies.*) My only complaint is that the book is just too long. I do like to know the details of their everyday life but there was just too much we ate this-and then I wrote this letter-and then we sat on the porch, etc. With about a hundred pages trimmed, this book would be almost perfect.