The Last Laugh

deadkings

Put away the cucumber sandwiches and hot tea. Text messages, emails, and cell-phone subterfuge all surround Vicky Bliss in this jarringly modern book of suspense. Best-selling author, Elizabeth Peters revisits Bliss after a 10 plus year hiatus. Bliss has only aged a few years, but the world around her is altered drastically. Peters acknowledges this transition in her Forward.

Vicky made her first appearance in 1973. She was not yet thirty. The most recent volume was published in 1994, more than twenty years later, but Vicky had aged only a few years. She's still in her early thirties, although the world in which she lives has changed a great deal.

So how do we writers explain the inconsistencies and anachronisms? We don't. We can't. So please don't bother writing to point them out to me, ignore them as I have, and place yourself in the” current now.”

Perhaps because of this, Peters puts her readers in a familiar place: Egypt. She also gives them familiar stomping grounds: a missing mummy. I admit that when I picked the book up I thought it was an Amelia Peabody novel; the long-running and much adored series featuring the first woman archaeologist, strident feminist, and amateur sleuth.

Peters very well could have written this book as a tribute to her fans; it sure feels that way. The hidden and not-so-hidden references are everywhere and make this book worth a second read.

“What's the matter? I asked.
“Nothing.” He was staring at the cat, the whites of his eyes very much in evidence.
“You aren't afraid of the cat, are you? Who does it belong to?”
Ahman opened the door just wide enough to slip in. “It lives here.”

The central block of the house was devoted to offices and a handsomely appointed library. Bookshelves stretched from floor to ceiling ? I inspected the contents of a pair of glass cases flanking the door. Expecting to find precious manuscripts and/or choice artifacts, I was somewhat taken aback to see a smallish, old-fashioned gun, a large knife, and a piece of folded fabric, roughly triangular in shape.
-Peters, pages 185-186

Even a slow beginning and a lacking Vicky Bliss, who doesn't seem as brainy or inventive as in past books, are mere bumps in the road to a spectacular mystery. The climactic sword-fighting scene is true Peters at her best. John Tregarth a.k.a “Sir John Smythe” was as charismatic as ever and Bliss's boss Herr Doktor Anton Z. Schmidt was exposed as more than an adorable side-kick with a magnifying glass and is positively the best-written character in this book.

Schmidt said, “Tsk, tsk,” and sipped his beer.
I took a few deep breaths. “Okay, I apologize. But what I said was true. We aren't getting anywhere. The mastermind isn't doing his job.”
“Then perhaps,” said Schmidt hopefully, “I should be the mastermind.”
“You've got my vote, Schmidt.”
-Peters, page 166

The ending will leave Peabody and Peters fans nodding their heads and murmuring “I knew it” with a satisfied grin.

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