Whether you were a fan when they were being released, a fan of the gothic crime stories she wrote, or the Amelia Peabody series that she is probably best known for, there are very few people that won’t find the works of Barbara Mertz enjoyable (or Elizabeth Peters or Barbara Michaels, depending on which en name she was going by)!
Whether it’s the romance mixed with the elements of mystery that her Amelia Peabody Series was focused on or the dark, gothic settings of her Vicky Bliss or Jacqueline Kirby series, Mertz is an author who can’t keep away from the mystery genre.
In this guide, we’re just going to take a little look at probably her most famous (and certainly longest-running) series that she worked on, the Amelia Peabody Series, and the many, many books that you’ll find in it!
The Amelia Peabody Series
This series of books follows the mystery-solving adventures of the titular Amelia Peabody, a 19th-century archaeologist who spends much of her professional career as an archaeologist in and around Egypt and North Africa.
Considering that the author Barbara Mertz’s early academic study was in Egyptology, it isn’t surprising that all that knowledge and experience would shine through in this series!
The cast of characters quickly expands early on, as Amelia gets married to her husband and other recurring characters, Radcliffe Emerson, and their son, but you’ll still be mostly following the perspective of Amelia herself, as she navigates these mysteries across the Ancient Egyptian ruins that she and her husband excavate.
The important thing to understand about the Amelia Peabody series is that, despite most of these stories sharing the same characters, there is no overarching story that takes place.
As a reader, this means that it is just as easy to go from book one to book 5 or 10 as it would be to go straight to book 2.
That being said, while most of these books were released and written in the same chronological order that they are presented, 2 stories were released more recently that take place earlier in the book’s timelines.
So, we will be going through this list as it was released.
Okay, we did talk a big game about how you didn’t need to start with the first book, considering that pretty much every book in this series tells its own story.
However, if we’re talking about the beginning, how could we not start with the first novel in this series?
Amelia Peabody, an orphaned daughter of a wealthy aristocrat who loved the old world, travels the world in pursuit of her interests in both history and archaeology.
She is traveling to Cairo when she finds the young Evelyn Barton-Forbes, who has been cast off by her husband.
As the two converse and get to know each other on the way to an archaeological dig site, they are unaware that they are about to be sent on a mystery thousands of years in the making!
An excellent introduction to the series and several characters that will become mainstays, you can’t go wrong by starting here.
- A phenomenal establishing book for both the characters and tone.
- The main mystery takes a while to get started.
Of course, why skip ahead to book 5 or 10, when book 2 is such a great read?
For starters, the timeline moves a little further down here. It’s the early 1890s now, and Amelia is now married to the dashing Radcliffe Emerson whom she met in the previous book and even has a son now.
However, the mysterious death of a fellow archaeologist in Egypt leads her and her family to head back into the field on another adventure, and another mystery to solve!
- The time skip between books 1 and 2 leaves the characters in a fresh, new place.
- That time skip could also confuse some readers, however.
Look, it’s an archaeology mystery series set in Egypt, of course at least one of these stories was going to be named after a mummy! That’s free copies flying off the shelves, as far as we are concerned!
And what are the contents of that book, you ask? Oh, nothing much. Just the stealing of priceless treasures from the tomb of Mazghuna by a thief, and potentially a wider conspiracy that Peabody, Emmerson, and their family have to unravel.
You know, nothing much.
- The perspective change of Amelia’s husband is an interesting change.
- Those who have grown accustomed to Amelia’s perspective and wit might find it missing a little here.
As we edge closer to the turn of the 20th century, we find Amelia Peabody and her family finally have the chance to excavate an actual pyramid, with the ruins of Dahsoor ready and waiting to be discovered by her, Radcliffe, and their now 8-year-old son Ramses (okay, his actual first name is Walter. But Ramses is a much cooler name for an Egyptian mystery series, is it not?)
However, as they dig deeper into the ruins, they find more than they bargained for as their young son is abducted in the dead of night!
- Moving into an actual pyramid excavation is an exciting new stage for the characters.
- Arguably, more of the same formula you have grown used to. Not bad, by any means, but not much different.
With so many superstitions surrounding the opening of tombs, it feels only natural that whispers of curses and torment from the afterlife come for those that disturb these mummies.
But Fear itself killing a nightwatchman? That’s the mystery that Amelia has to solve in the British Museum in this next exciting installment, taking us to the Victorian capital itself.
- The new setting of the British Museum makes for a great change.
- The new, Victorian setting of the piece might have some people missing the Egyptian setting.
The title might seem a little strange, but once you start reading, suddenly that title isn’t a strange out-of-context set of words, but the damning last things that you want to hear when stranded out in the desert.
And that’s a fate that Amelia and her family have to contend with in this next entry into this beloved series!
- The survival aspect of this story adds a new sense of danger.
- The relative lack of a hard ‘mystery’ is noticeable.
With the events of the previous noble concluded, and a new member of the Peabody-Emerson household added in the form of young Nefret, Amelia, and Radcliffe, are in Amarsa at yet another archaeological dig.
While the couple planned for the trip to be just like old times, they get more than they bargained for when a criminal organization gets involved in their latest excursion!
- An interesting return to the older formula, though the characters are at different stages in their lives.
- Ramses and Nefret get very little page time.
As we roar into the 20th century, the first book set in the new century focuses on an ancient mask that has been presented to Amelia in Radcliffe, along with a guide going missing, which spells intrigue and mystery once again for this dynamic duo!
- The chase element brings a new, exciting aspect to the book.
- The setting of Thebes might be a welcome change to some, but not to others.
Cats can be a sign of either good or bad luck when they appear to you, depending on how you interpret them
However, when Amelia sees one in her dreams before a new archaeological dig, she takes it as a good one.
But when ominous warnings of staying away from a specific tomb start appearing, perhaps it’s not that great of a lucky sign.
You’ll have to read for yourself to find out!
- Who doesn’t love to see Amelia expose charlatans and criminals?
- Nothing new is added to the old formula in this story.
It’s now 1907, and the current archaeological season looks to be a boring one.
However, when they come into possession of a mint-condition copy of the book of the dead, things certainly started getting more interesting!
- Characters are on full display in this book!
- The abundance of subplots does not make up for its lacking a main plot line.
At Ramses’ best friend David’s wedding, accusations begin to fly as the young groom is accused of selling priceless Egyptian artifacts.
Amelia and Radcliffe have to get a break at some point, surely…
- Seeing Ramses at this stage adds a real sense of the passage of time in this series.
- How many people actually cared about David’s innocence?
It’s 1914, and the rumbling of war in Europe is causing trouble for everyone in Amelia’s family, not the least Ramses, who is accused of being a coward by British men in Cairo due to his opposition to violence.
- The passage of time is acknowledged, and characters are forced into difficult choices.
- The Great War does leave a downer feeling on an otherwise lighthearted mystery series.
But wait, we’re not done with World War 1 drama yet!
With their normal archaeological site being turned into an army camp filled with military espionage and tomb robbers, Amelia can find no reprieve as even a remote site turns up a fresh victim of the Great War.
- The effects of the Great War are felt by all the characters here.
- Despite the historical context, it is still much the same.
It seems that there is no escape from the Great War in 1917, as Amelia’s son Ramses is forced onto a dangerous mission in the seaport of Gaza.
- Ramses’ mission adds a new political/spy thriller aspect.
- The new element might be a welcome change to some, but not to others.
Even as the threat of world war dissipates in Cairo in 1919, there’s no time for Amelia to relax, as a murder coincides with the discovery of an anticipated tomb that she and Emerson are at.
- Plenty of side characters get a moment to shine in this book.
- Lovers of the archaeology aspect may find parts lacking in this novel.
Jumping back to 1907, 19-year-old Ramses is forced to make a choice, as a mysterious stranger tries to break his family apart.
- This book is firmly focused on character introspection.
- They may not be blood-related, but did we really need the romance subplot between Nefret and Ramses here?
Things are looking up for the archaeological family in 1921 in Cairo. But with whispers of a curse and a dead archaeologist on the scene, things may not be plain sailing for Amelia.
- A very easy read, full of everything fans love about the series.
- A little slow to get started.
The search for Tutankhamun’s tomb is heating up, as Radcliffe races against rival archaeologists to discover the fabled Pharaoh’s tomb.
- A perfect cross-section of this mystery series, and a major worldwide archaeological event.
- This is the last book in the series, chronologically speaking.
Breaking away from her lifelong love with Egypt for an archaeological season, Amelia sets her sights on Palestine, Amelia and her family must stop a botched excavation from going wrong.
- The change in location makes for an interesting new backdrop.
- The change in chronology might be confusing to some.
This particular novel was never released in Mertz’s lifetime, being completed by accomplished crime and mystery writer Joan Hess in 2017.
It might not be the final book chronologically speaking, but there’s certainly an air of finality to it.
- The sense of finality is a nice send-off to the series.
- Fans of the series might miss Mertz’s distinct style of writing.
As you can tell by now, the Amelia Peabody series is a fun romp through late 19/early 20th century Egyptology and archaeology, with a healthy helping of murder mystery thrown into the mix.
So, which Amelia Peabody book will you read first?
Frequently Asked Questions
How Many Books Did Barbara Mertz Write?
Barbara Mertz wrote almost 70 books throughout her life.
What Genre Is The Amelia Peabody Series?
The Amelia Peabody series can generally be considered historical crime/mystery fiction.
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