Barbara Louise Mertz
AKA Elizabeth Peters
October 24, 2019
Barbara Louise Mertz (1927 – 2013), was an Illinois-born author with a University of Chicago PhD (1952) in Egyptology who wrote under the pseudonyms Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels. She was named Grand Master at the inaugural Anthony Awards in 1986 and Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America at the Edgar Awards in 1998. She lived in Maryland until her death. In addition to the Amelia Peabody (Egyptian archaeology) mysteries, she wrote four in the Jacqueline Kirby series about an American librarian who became a bestselling author, and seven mysteries about Vicky Bliss, an art historian.
I always read at least three of an author’s works before choosing it for my weekly Must-Read Juicy Mystery post and have just finished the final (#20) of the Amelia Peabody series. Peabody is a trained archaeologist who praises her husband, the dashing archaeologist Radcliffe Emerson, but is just as capable of spending a day at an archaeological dig while also managing the household servants and raising children. The Emersons are often in danger, targeted by assassins or upended by the exploits of their employees, other family members, or their children.
Merz was inspired by, among other things, intriguing artifacts, dig sites and interesting historical events to write the Peabody mysteries. These are books to drown in: Peabody and Emerson return to Egypt after hearing about the discovery of a royal tomb in Luxor, they search the vast desert for a lost English aristocrat and his wife, or a stranger entices them with a ring from the tomb of an Egyptian queen. Merz’s final book, The Painted Queen, was based on a famous bust of Nefertiti that was discovered and taken out of Egypt sometime after 1912. There is still some confusion and disagreement about how the bust was removed and how Egypt was robbed of one of its historical treasures. The book was completed after her death (using Mertz’s outline and meticulous research notes) by her friend and fellow mystery writer Joan Hess (author of the Claire Malloy and Maggody Mystery series). The two women had met at a mystery convention thirty years before.