RIP Elizabeth Peters
(Sept. 29, 1927 – Aug. 8, 2013)
I just learned that Elizabeth Peters recently died. Her actual name was Barbara Mertz, but I knew her as Elizabeth Peters when I grew up reading her books.
She was a prolific mystery writer, her characters are a delight, and her writing easily mixed suspense and humor. I particularly loved her sense of character though. Her heroines were all very real, with very definite personalities and perspectives. They were all people that I would have loved meeting, but also that I could have imagined meeting. They were real people and they continue to delight me. The love interests were also all strong personalities that could hold their own against the main characters, and the large casts of secondary characters were always zany and delightful.
I think growing up reading these books provided a wonderful salve to also growing up reading classic science fiction, which tended to skimp on the character side of things, especially when it came to females. Peters’ characters more than made up for the lack in any other books, though. Her were a delight and a wonder.
The first book of hers that I read was Crocodile on the Sandbank, which introduced me to Amelia Peabody, Peters’ most well-known character. Peabody is a British female Egyptologist in 1884. As you might guess from that, she is quite opinionated and strong-willed. Watching her butt heads with pretty much everyone is a delight. Amelia along with her eventual husband and eventual son are the focus of 19 books.
My favorite series of hers though is the one that follows Dr. Victoria Bliss, a medieval arts scholar who works at the National Museum in Munich. Vicky is Barbie-doll-esque enough in appearance that most people don’t take her seriously as a scholar. Her boss Herr Professor Anton Schmidt is Santa-Claus-esque enough in appearance that no one takes him seriously as an adventurer. John Tregarth is a master criminal who tries valiantly to not be taken too seriously. Together they find and/or get drawn into all sorts of historical and criminal adventures.
Some of my favorite books of Peters, though, are her stand alone novels, introducing whole new casts of characters and a single mystery to be resolved. Of her many such books, Summer of the Dragon is probably my favorite, closely followed by Devil-May-Care and The Love Talker.
This is an author well worth reading and who has had a major impact on my youth, reading, and writing. She set a high bar for others to follow.
I knew Barbara, and am very sad at her passing–I appreciate your kind words about her. I wanted to add that she also published rather prolifically under the name Barbara Michaels. Those were one-off romantic suspense novels, but you’ll hear her voice in them if you’re familiar with her Elizabeth Peters work. She said she wanted to get back to do another Vicky Bliss book–she often heard from fans about it!–but commitments for her Amelia Peabody series got in the way.
I knew that she’d written under Barbara Michaels, as well, but I don’t think I’ve ever read one of them. I had the sense that they were somewhat more straight-forward gothic novels without as much of her wonderful humor, but I want to actually try one. Do you have a recommendation for a first Barbara Michaels?
My condolences to you and the rest of her family and friends. And to her readers, too. As a reader, mourning the loss of an author is always somewhat difficult because it’s not a personal loss the way it is to family and friends, but it is personal in the way that her works have impact. Her stories and characters were and are significant to me. And I really do need to read her Barbara Michaels books!
I remember Elizabeth Peters as the first author that I learned to trust implicitly. Very occasionally, I would begin one of her books with reservations about the plot and characters, and she always managed to delight me by the middle of the book. She taught me the concept of trusting an author, and I have yet to find another author that I trust as much. She will continue to live in all of us that love her books, and in new readers that discover them.