Friday, September 2, 2011

Read Alike: Elizabeth Peters

Elizabeth Peters is a master of the Cozy Mystery, in which the body is safely offstage and there is no strong language, sex, or violence, just a comfortable murder investigation. With her cast of amateur sleuths, Peters sets the standard for these gentle Mysteries featuring quirky characters, a humorous tone, and often foreign climes. Although she has also written stand-alone novels of Romantic Suspense as Elizabeth Peters and more Romantic Suspense, touched with Gothic elements, under pseudonym Barbara Michaels, not to mention titles on Egyptology published under her real name, Barbara Mertz, Peters is best known for her Amelia Peabody Mystery series.

Peter’s female protagonists are all intelligent, beautiful, strong-willed, independent, and very appealing. When placed in dangerous situations, they are as likely to extricate themselves as to be saved by someone else. Archaeologist Amelia Peabody carries her formidable umbrella, librarian/romance writer Jacqueline Kirby keeps her enormous handbag well stocked and at her side at all times, ready for any emergency, and Vicky Bliss, the smart but self-deprecating art historian, is as likely to fight back with her sharp wit as with a weapon. Supporting characters serve as foils or eccentrics in their own right. All in all, Peters' books are a feast for fans of amusing characters.

Peter’s writes layered stories that can be appreciated on more than one level. Complex, convoluted plots fill all Peters' books, and while the details make them read more slowly, they also add a depth which fans appreciate. Despite the humor and mystery puzzle with romantic complications, these are also good suggestions for fans of Historical Fiction. Peters' facts are correct; she is a meticulous researcher, no matter what the setting or time period; and readers of Historical novels find much to appreciate and enjoy.

Peter’s Peabody/Emerson series, set in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Egypt, shows off her considerable talents to best advantage. These are detail-laden, historically-rich, densely-written, complex (in terms of story and structure) Mysteries with more than a touch of Romance. Start with the first, Crocodile on the Sandbank, in which Amelia Peabody, traveling on a small inheritance, meets Egyptologist Radcliffe Emerson, and the rest is history.

Statuesque, brilliant art historian Vicky Bliss appeals more to fans of Romantic Suspense (who want their stories riddled with humor, that is). All offer fascinating details of European and/or Egyptian art and artifacts, building danger and exciting escapes -- not to mention romantic interest art dealer cum master thief, Sir John Smythe. Trojan Gold, while not the first, is a good example of the series.

Finally, librarians especially should know Jacqueline Kirby, like Bliss of statuesque proportions, who gave up her academic library career to become a successful Romance writer. Try The Murders of Richard III, which involves a costume party in an English Country house, and, of course, murder.


Sharyn McCrumb’s Elizabeth MacPherson Mystery series fits right in with those of Elizabeth Peters. Elizabeth is another spunky heroine, intelligent but quirky. She's a forensic anthropologist, and her studies lead her to exotic locales, where she confronts dangers (including centuries-old Anthrax spores) and romance. The action may be less swashbuckling, but these are certainly amusing reading. Sick of Shadows is the first: Elizabeth MacPherson finds herself investigating a murder that puts an end to her cousin’s wedding.

If the romantic interests and entanglements form a large part of the appeal for readers, readers should try Jayne Ann Krentz for contemporary settings and her alter-ego Amanda Quick for historicals. Although neither employs series characters, both share Peters' madcap humor; her pleasure in romantic romps; her intelligent, independent heroines; her often brooding heroes; convoluted, detail-rich plots; and stories with element of Mystery, Suspense, and Adventure. These are not, however, for readers who do not enjoy racy romances with explicit sex.

Krentz's Smoke in Mirrors: Leonora Hutton must trust Thomas Walker to help her unravel a web of illusion and distortion. Meredith Spooner, Leonora's best friend embezzles millions from a college endowment fund and sends Leonora the safe-deposit box key just before she dies. The safe-deposit box also contains a book about Mirror House, the site of Meredith's last scam and newspaper stories about a thirty-year-old unsolved murder that occurred there.

Quick's Affair: Hired by marriage-minded women to investigate the backgrounds of their prospective husbands, Charlotte Arkendale finds herself in deep trouble when one of her clients turns up dead and she is forced to depend on Baxter St. Ives, her mysterious new man-of-affairs, for protection.

Anne Perry is acclaimed for her two well-researched, detail-rich, atmospheric Mystery series that probe the social and political injustices found in the underside of Victorian London society. The crimes that fill these novels are brutal and Perry provides plenty of details of these crimes, as well as the society that produced them. Her introspective character studies provide depth and psychological insights that please fans. Pacing in both series is slow, due to the wealth of historical information, character details, and social commentary. Start with The Cater Street Hangman featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt: Careless of both murder and manners, two determinedly unconventional young sisters ignore Victorian mores and actively join the police investigation into the murder of their servant girl.

Elliott Roosevelt's historical mysteries featuring Eleanor Roosevelt portray life in the spheres of power; his mother's deep compassion; and the innocence and optimism of most of his secondary characters. Other historical figures during FDR's presidency often take center stage, though the mysteries revolve around the imaginary characters. These aren't strictly cozies, but violence is restrained, and sex is not explicitly described even when important to the plot. A separate short series features FDR himself in underworld-connected political back rooms. Start with Murder and the First Lady: When a lowly secretary, Philip Garber, is found dead in the room of her British secretary, Eleanor Roosevelt begins to investigate.

Husband and wife detective teams may also appeal to Peters' fans. Try the classic The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, with the incomparable banter between sleuths Nick and Nora Charles, or the more contemporary series by Carolyn Hart, featuring bookstore owner Annie Laurance and husband Max Darling. Death on Demand is the first.

Please stop by the Recommendations Desk on the first floor, check out NoveList Plus on the library's website, or visit W. 11th & Bluff next week for more reading suggestions. Or submit a Personal Recommendations request, and we'll create a reading list just for you!

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