Tag Archives: Historical Mystery

The Ape Who Guards the Balance

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Ape Who Guards the Balance [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Elizabeth Peters, book 10 of the Amelia Peabody series.

Peters The Ape Who Guards the Balance

In this volume of the fearsomely-long Amelia Peabody series, the second-generation Peabody-Emersons are no longer children. They are even given their own voices as narrators in the interspersed documents designated “Manuscript H” (Ramses, evidently, though he writes of himself in the third person), and “Letter Collection B” (Nefret). The majority of the text remains Amelia’s journal, although given the growing centrality of the younger characters, she is increasingly “Aunt Amelia.” More than many of the other books in the series, this one is anchored in previously-developed characters and plot strands. I don’t know if I have much confidence that it would read well as a stand-alone novel. 

After a fairly lively start involving a theft in England and the attempted abduction of Amelia herself, the bulk of the book takes place in Egypt. The archaeological focus is in the Valley of the Kings, with the Emersons somewhat sidelined by the antiquities establishment. There are kidnappings and murders, and the perpetrators and motives remain obscure for much of the book, with some perplexity resulting from the numerous past villains at loose ends in the Emersons’ world.

There’s a little more action and violence here than the average Peabody book, and plenty of humor — also, some heartache and sorrow. It’s definitely worth the read for someone who has enjoyed earlier volumes in the series.

The Deadly Grimoire

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Deadly Grimoire [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Rosemary Jones, cover Daniel Strange, part of the Arkham Horror: Standalone Novels series.

Jones The Deadly Grimoire

Author Rosemary Jones claims to have written The Deadly Grimoire in response to reader demand for her to continue telling stories in the 1920s Arkham of H. P. Lovecraft and the 21st-century game designers inspired by him. Characters featured here and originating in the Arkham Files games include photo journalist Darrell Simmons and mail carrier Stella Clark.

The story is told by the actress Betsy Baxter (from Jones’ previous Arkham novel Mask of Silver), who forms a friendship with the aviatrix Winifred Habbamock, the latter making her first appearance in Arkham literature outside of the games, as far as I know. Both of these protagonists are lady entrepreneurs of a sort, and the war-of-the-sexes framing from Mask of Silver is, if anything, intensified here, with an emphasis on “what the women know and the men forget” (226). There are some sympathetic male characters, including bookseller Tom Sweets.

Daniel Strange’s cover art accurately suggests that this tale will lean into the “pulp adventure” flavor more than cosmic horror, and the narrative tone is often more comedic than horrific. I thought that Jones had cultivated a good sense of sustained menace in Mask of Silver, albeit perhaps more effectively for readers familiar with the jauniste horror of Robert W. Chambers. But that angle is pretty much dropped in this sequel, which instead orients to a feud between two Innsmouth families with some supernatural backstory. The more fortunate and less introspective narrator Betsy certainly gives this book a lighter tone than its predecessor.

In the appended acknowledgments Jones gives a shout out to Mildred Benson, and indeed, this book reads more like a Nancy Drew mystery adventure than it does pulp era weird horror, Lovecraftian trappings notwithstanding.

Seeing a Large Cat

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Seeing a Large Cat [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Elizabeth Peters, book 9 of the Amelia Peabody series.

Peters Seeing a Large Cat

This ninth Amelia Peabody mystery is the first that I have shared from cover to cover with my Other Reader. We both enjoyed it quite well. It continues the formula established by Peters in the earlier books, this time covering (to my irrelevant excitement) the 1903-1904 excavation season in Egypt. 

The “large cat” of the title is perhaps Ramses Emerson, who sports whiskers as a surprise at the outset of the novel, and whose relations with the feline members of the household constitute an ongoing subplot. This volume of the series is one in which the younger generation of Emersons gain a significant degree of independence. Their separate perspective is supplied through the device of excerpts from a “Manuscript H,” supposedly written by Ramses and containing events he would best know, although referring to him in the third person.

On the other hand, the Cat could equally be Katherine Jones, a new character who seems likely to recur in future stories, and whose cat-like qualities are emphasized in descriptions. The gerundial phrasing of the title alludes to the ancient Egyptian dream-interpretation papyrus that is Peabody’s translation project for the season. What indeed is the significance of “seeing a large cat” in one’s dream? This book combines entertaining adventure with ominous portents for its protagonists.