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By Elizabeth Peters

Avon, 1999

Reviewed by J. Ashley

After a few disappointing episodes in the life of the Emerson family, I was pleased that THE FALCON AT THE PORTAL brought back some of the excitement of the earlier books in the series.

The story begins as most other Amelia Peabody stories do, with the family preparing to travel to Egypt to excavate in a place Emerson keeps secret until the last minute. Before they can depart, they discover that someone is selling forgeries purporting to belong to the collection of their deceased foreman, Abdullah. That person is also using the name and guise of the Egyptian David, who has just married Amelia's niece.

The Emersons journey to Egypt and begin their dig. But danger follows them as "accidents" occur at the site and Amelia is shot at in the desert. Such dangers are so commonplace for the family that Emerson refuses to stop work, but Ramses and Amelia begin to investigate, each on their own. The murder of an Englishwoman (whose body is discovered at their site) and the odd behavior of several of their acquaintance lead Amelia and Ramses on a dangerous hunt for both the forger and the murderer. To add to this, Ramses agrees to assist the English police chief in Cairo to find an elusive hashish smuggler.

The book is similar in nature to other Amelia Peabody adventures: bizarre crimes related to archeology solved by the boisterous, courageous, resourceful, and decidedly odd family. But Peters this time throws darkness into the Emersons' lives. The despicable cousin Percy arrives to work his evil, and a child is brought to the Emersons--a child who looks remarkably like Amelia. Her arrival triggers a series of sad events, and Nefret decides to-- well, I won't give it away.

My complaints about the book are that the action gets a little convoluted, with murders, forgeries, drug lords, prostitution, and theft of antiquities all mixed together. I thought the identity of the culprit obvious, because Peters doesn't give us many suspects, and long-time readers will recognize the formula. Also his mode of operation was never really explained, and the worries about David's reputation seems to evaporate. Likewise I found the behavior of Nefret odd and a little unbelievable. Peters has teased us with the Ramses/Nefret question for a while (too long, in my opinion), and Nefret's actions are puzzling and never explained (though I suppose that's to make the reader pick up the next book).

Despite this, Amelia is back full-force. I found the two previous books a little too full of Ramses, with Amelia and Emerson left behind much of the time, but the Amelia/Ramses ratio is better balanced here. Also, Ramses is no longer the precocious teenager (never my favorite character-type), but a brave and thoughtful young man (most of the time).

For sheer readability and enjoyment, this book is recommended. Elizabeth Peters still proves she's a world-class writer.

Other titles reviewed include: THE APE WHO GUARDS THE BALANCE.

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