Friday, July 11, 2008

The Ape Who Guards the Balance by Elizabeth Peters

The prospects for the 1907 archaeological season in Egypt seem fairly dull to Amelia Peabody. Despite her adored husband's brilliant reputation in his field, his dashing-yet-less-than-diplomatic behavior has Professor Radcliffe Emerson ignominiously demoted to examining only the most boring tombs in the Valley of the Kings -- mere leftovers, really. All the Peabody Emersons profess stiff upper lips and intend to make the best of a bad situation, but this year the legendary land of the pharoahs will yield more than priceless artifacts for the Emerson expedition. For the desert guards even deeper mysteries that are wrapped in greed -- and sealed by murder.
In a seedy section of Cairo, the youngest members of the expedition purchase a mint-condition papyrus of the famed Book of the Dead, the collection of magical spells and prayers designed to ward off the perils of the underworld and lead the deceased into everlasting life. But for as long as there have been graves, there have also been grave robbers -- as well as those who believe tomb violators risk the wrath of gods like Thoth, the little baboon who protects the scales used to weigh such precious commodities as hearts and souls.
Besides facing the ire of ancient deities, their adventure into antiquity also puts Amelia and company in the sights of Sethos, the charismatically compelling but elusive Master Criminal whose bold villainies have defied the authorities in sever countries. In truth, Amelia needn't have worried: this season is about to turn from dull to deadly. Soon, she will need all her remarkable skills of detection and deduction to untangle a web woven of criminals and cults, stolen treasures and fallen women -- all the while under the unblinking eye of a ruthless, remorseless killer.

Poor Emerson! After yet more bad words between M. Prospero and him, the Peabody's are relegated to the poor archaeological sites, where they expect to find nothing of interest. Of course, being the true professional that he is, he is still determined to do the best he can. It is, however, incredibly difficult to concentrate solely on the task at hand, when once again his family get mixed up in trying to solve crimes and mysteries.

The books starts off on an interesting note, with Amelia sort of becoming involved in the suffragette movement, It quickly becomes clear however that a rally was merely a cover for a dastardly plan to steal ancient artifacts from a wealthy collector's home, and the whole Peabody becomes involved in trying to work out who the mastermind could possibly be - I mean it couldn't possibly be the Master Criminal...could it?

There is an element of preachiness in this episode of the series - with a large amount of focus being spent on women's issues. Nefret becomes involved with a clinic to try and help poor women who require medical assistance, and with teaching Egyptian women to read.

Once again we get to see more than we have in previous books through the use of Manuscript H, which I mentioned above. One of the things that having this alternate point of view does, is enable the reader to know of events that the main characters do not, mainly because Amelia and Emerson are trying to shield the 'children', and the 'children' try to keep what they have been doing from coming to the attention of the parents so that they do not worry themselves unnecessarily.

The mystery was again fun, and I love the buildup in the relationships in this book, especially the twist in the end of this book, which has characters reviewing their own beliefs in terms of equality of the races and to having to live what they have been saying for a very long time. When Amelia is forced to stop and think about her reactions to unexpected news, then it can only be a good thing for the series, as so often she tends to go racing of without worrying too much about the consequences.

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