Tribute on a Shelf

I unpacked some (but not nearly all) of our books recently.  One whole, long shelf ended up being full of just Elizabeth Peters books.  Those cracked and well-worn spines represented years of an author’s devotion to the craft.  And those were just the ones she wrote under that pseudonym.  To them you can add all the many books written as Barbara Michaels (any of you give yourself nightmares reading Ammie Come Home?), and her non-fiction books on archaeology written under her real name of Barbara Mertz.  I notice her cover photos are starting to show her age, but she’s still writing.

Think about it.  All those years of struggling with plot and character and continuity in her series, and editing.  Now that’s love.

The first book I purchased of hers was back in the late 1970’s and was called Legend in Green Velvet.  It was during the time period of Phyllis Whitney, Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt.  You know, the gothic romance period.  The book was set in Scotland and since I was madly in love with anything Scottish and had just started Scottish dancing, I counted out my seventy-five cents and bought it.  Elizabeth Peters tricked me.  It wasn’t a gothic romance.  It was hilarious.  It was a mystery.  It had characters who weren’t perfect, and who were eccentric.  Needless to say, when she followed that with the first in the Amelia Peabody series, I was hooked.  All these years later I still anxiously wait for the next one, knowing that as she ages, the chances are good there won’t be more.

One of the things Elizabeth Peters has always done is insert ‘inside’ comments.  If you’ve read all her books, you understand them.  A character from one series wanders through another.  An object important to one book shows up in another.  A character says something that has to do with another story.  I know there are other writers who do this, but she does it with a gentle hand and with the humor that is in all her books.

Another thing Elizabeth is very good at is showing the protagonist in stories written in first person.  If you like to write in first person, I strongly urge you to read the Amelia Peabody series.  The books have evolved over the years, but even in the early ones written in the 1980’s, she was very strong in this aspect of writing.  Amelia has a view of herself that is at odds with the way everyone else sees her.  And Elizabeth manages to show everyone’s opinions without stepping outside of Amelia’s mind.  This is very strong in her later Peabody books.

I would say that Elizabeth Peters went a long way toward encouraging me to write.  I was writing anyway by that time, in secret of course, but she instilled in me a desire to be able to pull a reader so fully into a story, to make them laugh out loud, and to make them want to be part of the character’s family for many years.

I can only hope that she has some more books in her because I’m not ready for her to be done writing.  There’s still one more shelf to fill.


10 thoughts on “Tribute on a Shelf

  1. Ré, get thee to the library! I LOVE the Amelia Peabody mysteries and I bet you will too. The audiobooks (read by Barbara Rosenblat) are incredible as well; I can’t read the books anymore without hearing her voices in my head.

    When I went to the VONA workshop last year, I was immersed in Peabody books and felt like I had to hide them because they weren’t “serious” enough. Then I realized all the feedback my mentor was giving me — more sensory details, more drama — was stuff that Peters excels at. So I’ve gobbled them down with no shame ever since.

    I’ve never read any of the non-Peabody novels but Lisa, you have convinced me to remedy that. 🙂


  2. A lot of the earlier books are very dated by today’s standards but I love reading them and being taken back to that time. You can see Elizabeth Peter’s journey to finding her writing voice through the earlier stuff. The Vickie Bliss series are also excellent, and Lisa you should read those as (without giving spoilers here), the last one ties into the Amelia series. But in reading the most recent Vickie Bliss, you won’t catch that unless you are familiar with Amelia. Even if you’re not though, the Bliss series are great books, too.


    • I imagine some would find that book dated now, but I still love it. One of my favorite scenes is Jamie and the dangerous hand gun, when he trips. I think part of the enduring appeal of this story for me is that it reminds me of a more innocent time in my life. The book still makes me smile and that’s why it is so dear to me. Have you read ‘Die For Love’ or ‘Summer of the Dragon’?


  3. Lisa, I just finished the Vicky Bliss series… aahhhhhhhh!!!!!! Thank you so much for turning me on to Peters’s other books. 😀 I’ve been grinning like an idiot since I finished the last book last night. 😀 😀 😀


    • Being familiar with Amelia Peabody, did you notice the references to her in the Bliss series? And did you like how Elizabeth Peters shows up as herself in the last Bliss book? What a great laugh that was, and how much fun she must have had writing that, letting the characters react to her. Glad you liked the books. Lisa


      • Yes I did, and delighted in them. 🙂 The author appearance was fun… I think that last book was really for the fans, there was so much in it to provoke glee. 🙂 I’m in Vicky withdrawal — I’ve been listening to the audiobooks just to keep the series going in my mind!


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