Review: A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters

I fully admit to being an Amelia Peabody fan girl. I started the series in college and have dutifully picked up each yearly book as soon as it was published--in hardcover. I mourned the conclusion of the series when Tomb of the Golden Bird was released and was ecstatic when Peters began publishing 'lost journal' books that filled in the gaps left by the original series.

The series as a whole is studiously researched and written with  a sly sense of humor through the tart, often abrasive voice of Amelia Peabody Emerson. Part of the charm is due to the characters. Part of it is due to the atmosphere created by Elizabeth Peters's expertise in the field.

Unfortunately, though, A River in the Sky was missing something. Something big. Two somethings actually. And those were a compelling mystery and archaeology.

These are, at their heart, supposed to be mysteries and not just adventures. True, the mysteries are usually not all that difficult to figure out, but some semblance of suspense is expected. I kept reading, hoping that a mystery would appear, only to be disappointed when the suspense aspect of the plot turned out to be more of a 'figure out who is a spy and what they're up to' question. There's no real mystery because we know who the spies are. There's no real suspense because there's not all that much at stake for anyone. And while we have an obligatory dead body or two, it really doesn't seem that solving whodunnit is given a blink of consideration--we pretty well already know.

Even more disappointing was the relative lack of archaeology. Most of the extremely thin 300 page book has the characters getting to Palestine. Very little excavation occurs here, which just feels wrong for an Amelia book. Emerson finally gets his area cordoned off, but we're at nearly 3/4 of the way through before he makes any sort of discovery. And we see virtually nothing of him or his workers actually working.

So, while the writing is as good as ever, I was extremely disappointed with this book. I love hearing from Amelia and her family but not enough to overcome the problems with the book itself. It's worth reading just to visit with the characters a bit, but don't expect any suspense or historical wows.

For anyone who hasn't yet read this series, please, please, please don't start with this one. Start at the beginning because there is a definite chronology. And, quite frankly, you can skip this one entirely.

My Grade: C

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