The Ape Who Guards the Balance by Elizabeth Peters
Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Recorded Books
Publication Date: 1998
Read by: Barbara Rosenblat
The Short Version:
The 1907 season in Egypt for the Amelia Peabody and her family turns out to be far more adventurous than they expect.
Why I Read It:
I have enjoyed this series from the beginning and it remains one of my favorites for audio.
From the Amelia Peabody website:
The prospects for the 1907 archaeological season in Egypt seem fairly dull to Amelia Peabody. Despite her adored husband’s brilliant reputation in his field, his dashing-yet-less-than-diplomatic behavior has Professor Radcliffe Emerson ignominiously demoted to examining only the most boring tombs in the Valley of the Kings — mere leftovers, really. All the Peabody Emersons profess stiff upper lips and intend to make the best of a bad situation, but this year the legendary land of the pharaohs will yield more than priceless artifacts for the Emerson expedition. For the desert guards even deeper mysteries that are wrapped in greed — and sealed by murder.
In a seedy section of Cairo, the youngest members of the expedition purchase a mint-condition papyrus of the famed Book of the Dead, the collection of magical spells and prayers designed to ward off the perils of the underworld and lead the deceased into everlasting life. But for as long as there have been graves, there have also been grave robbers — as well as those who believe tomb violators risk the wrath of gods like Thoth, the little baboon who protects the scales used to weigh such precious commodities as hearts and souls.
Besides facing the ire of ancient deities, their adventure into antiquity also puts Amelia and company in the sights of Sethos, the charismatically compelling but elusive Master Criminal whose bold villainies have defied the authorities in several countries. In truth, Amelia needn’t have worried: this season is about to turn from dull to deadly. Soon, she will need all her remarkable skills of detection and deduction to untangle a web woven of criminals and cults, stolen treasures and fallen women — all the while under the unblinking eye of a ruthless, remorseless killer.
This is a series that I have enjoyed for years. To me Barbara Rosenblat is Amelia Peabody. She captures the first person narrative perfectly. I think she does a great job of conveying Amelia’s strong points as well as the amusing smugness and lack of self-awareness that makes me laugh.
This book is a decent entry in the series but is probably not going to be one of my favorites. There was a lot going on and following the threads as the multiple plots played out sometimes got a bit confusing. Despite that, the book does add a lot to the ongoing story of the family that progresses through the series.
I like the way the younger generation is becoming more and more a part of the stories and in this one Amelia and Emerson’s son Ramses is truly beginning to stand out as a character in his own right. He’s old enough and independent enough that I’ve nearly forgotten how much he annoyed me as a character in the earlier books when he was a young child.
Along with Ramses the Emerson’s young beautiful ward Nefret is becoming a force to be reckoned with. She’s as independent and as feisty as Amelia and has Professor Emerson lovingly wrapped around her pretty little finger. Her ‘Professor darling’ melts him every time. The third leg of the younger generation also gets his storyline accelerated into a stronger and more adult one in this book David is the grandson of one of the family’s longtime Egyptian employees who has been orphaned and all but adopted by both the extended Emerson family and best friends with both Ramses and Nefret. While the majority of the book is told in first person by Amelia there are excerpts from other sources included that give the author the ability to tell parts of the story from the viewpoints of these increasingly important and interesting characters.
Elizabeth Peters is the pen name of Barbara Mertz who has a PhD in Egyptology. Her background allows her to weave real events and characters into the stories. In this one the sad story of a poorly excavated site is featured. Emerson’s outrage at the shoddy practices of other Egyptologists is an amusing part of the books that has its basis in fact.
As I said, I absolutely love Barbara Rosenblat’s narration of these books. This particular one, however seemed to have a lot of her audibly taking a deep breath before launching into a new section or paragraph and it got to be a bit distracting at times.
The Audio CD edition I got from the library included a bonus interview with both the author and narrator that was just a delight. My favorite part of that was when Barbara Mertz (Elizabeth Peters) said of Barbara Rosenblat that “she doesn’t read the books, she plays all the parts.”
It’s a delightful and fun series but you really need to start at the beginning with Crocodile on the Sandbank.
SoundBytes is a weekly roundup of audio book reviews hosted by Jen at Devourer of Books.