And that’s the case for me with Barbara Mertz (1927-2013). While Mertz may not have been one of the great writers of the 20th century, she did write fiction that was engaging and smart. And she was prolific. All in all, there are 68 fiction titles along with 3 non-fiction works.
Mertz wrote under three different names. As Barbara Michaels, her fiction leaned toward gothic and supernatural thrillers. As Elizabeth Peters, she gave us the formidable Amelia Peabody, along with Amazon blond museum curator, Vicky Bliss and librarian-turned-romance novelist, Jacqueline Kirby. And writing as herself, she produced scholarly non-fiction.
I’d loved Barbara Mertz as Barbara Michaels long before I discovered Elizabeth Peters. And it took me awhile to warm to Amelia. A colleague told me to read Crocodile on the Sandbank, the first of nineteen books in the series. Amelia Peabody is introduced as a confirmed spinster, suffragist, and scholar. She inherits a fortune from her father and leaves England to see the world, with the side benefit of escaping various suitors and family.
And so it begins. Amelia becomes an Egyptologist – British to the core who likes her whiskey and adores her husband, Emerson. And when she and Emerson produce a son, Ramses (as arrogant as a Pharaoh) it gives the series a new life. Written as a takeoff on turn-of-the-century potboilers, the Amelia books are awash in humor and romance as well as having a grounding in archaeology. Amelia’s last adventure was in 2010.
The real Mertz had a PHD in Egyptology from the University of Chicago and it was easy to see her lifelong fascination with Egypt never waned. I had the pleasure of meeting her and found her funny and irreverent and whip smart. SJCPL has most of the Barbara Michaels and Elizabeth Peters books.
Thanks, Ms. Mertz, for all those hours of losing myself in your books.