Contributing author: Gentle Heron
Three of my favorite authors are Elizabeth Peters, Barbara Michaels, and Barbara Mertz.
Barbara Mertz, who died in 2013 at the age of 85, was the first to be published. With a doctorate in Egyptology, she wrote nonfiction books that detailed life in ancient Egypt. I read her books when I aspired to be a docent for the Tutankhamen exhibit at the Smithsonian. Red Land, Black Land was my favorite. Mertz described daily life of Egyptians of all classes, five thousand years before our time. Being a geek even then, I particularly enjoyed her explanations of Egyptian astronomy, architecture, and mathematics. Mertz’s books are so well written that they are still available. I highly recommend them to those readers interested in ancient Egyptian culture.
Barbara Michaels was the second of these authors to hit bookstore shelves, with her first romantic suspense novel, The Master of Blacktower. Not her best work, however, but typical of the genre: a beautiful young woman is attracted to her mysterious and cruel employer, and discovers his secret past.
In my opinion, a better-written gothic suspense novel by Michaels is The Dark on the Other Side. It opens with a talking house, a bored and frightened wife, and a reporter. And what would a gothic tale be without werewolves?
Michaels wrote about 30 books in all, exploring a variety of subgenres of the suspense category, including horror along the way. Her last book is Other Worlds, a ghost story, or rather a series of such stories told and dissected by worthy psychic investigators including Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle.
Elizabeth Peters was the most prolific of the three authors with 38 titles to her name, even though she got the latest start. She wrote three series of books with female protagonists: Vicky Bliss, Jacqueline Kirby, and Amelia Peabody. The last set is my favorite of the series.
Borrower of the Night is the first of the Vicky Bliss mystery/suspense series. Vicky is an intelligent, well-educated, snarky, independent woman. My kind of gal! Vicky is an art expert, and Peters obviously did extensive background research for the setting and the centuries-ago back-story of her book. Vicky is trying to find a missing 16th century art masterpiece in a wreck of an ancient castle, and is being both helped and hindered by various male characters who may or may not be romantic interests (past and/or future).
Jacqueline Kirby is a librarian who also writes romance novels. In Naked Once More, she’s writing a sequel to a bestseller of an author who has mysteriously disappeared. That means she’s going to have to write in the style of the other author, and she decides to write while living in that author’s home town. Complicated enough? That’s when the suspense begins, as accidents similar to those experienced by the missing writer begin to happen to Jacqueline. Throughout, she is brave and masterful, definitely a strong female to be admired.
My favorite of the three female protagonists, though, is Amelia Peabody. I think I have read all 19 of these historical mysteries. Amelia is a Victorian family-oriented explorer and Egyptologist, a female Indiana Jones if you will. The Last Camel Died at Noon is typical of this series with its energetic, complex plots. Attempting to solve the mystery of a missing archeologist, the Peabody family encounters a city in the Sudan where ancient Egyptian customs are still carried out. Amelia is brave, commonsensical, and indefatigable. Peters writes with dry humor and deep knowledge of her subject matter.
I am glad I could introduce you to three of my favorite authors. And they are all the same person, writing as three different personae! Mertz wanted to write fiction, but was unsuccessful at her first several attempts to have her stories published, so she wrote nonfiction, drawing on her academic background. When she had honed her fiction writing skills to the point her works were publishable, her novels also reflected her ability to research topics in depth. Mertz created the two noms de plume (Michaels and Peters) to maintain the distinction of the genres she was writing in, and managed to keep distinct styles for both “authors.” That takes real writing talent.
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