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A RIVER IN THE SKY
By Elizabeth Peters
Harper, 2011, c2010 ($9.99)
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
It is 1910, and most of the members of the Emerson clan are stuck in England, brooding because they were unable to get a permit to dig in Egypt. Only Ramses is gainfully employed, working on a dig at Samaria.
During an especially boring day, Professor Emerson declares that the Old Testament is a tissue of lies, and goes on at great length to prove it. Amelia takes the opposite viewpoint, believing there is some truth to the stories. They are interrupted by a visit from Major George Morley, who is an archaeologist, although not a very good one. He is accompanied by an ethereal gentleman, pale and thin, with wispy hair that resembles a halo. Morley introduces him as the Rev. Plato Panagopolous. They plan to go to Jerusalem to excavate near the holiest part of the Holy City in search of the Ark of the Covenant. Morley asks Emerson to join the expedition. Emerson repeats his opinion about the reliability of the Old Testament and shows them the door.
He can't refuse the king, or British Intelligence, when he is asked to go to Palestine to rein Morley in. The relationships between the sons of Abraham &mdash Jews, Christians, and Muslims — are volatile, and Morley's planned excavation will make things much worse. In addition, the British government suspects that Morley is a spy for Germany. The Germans want a piece of Africa, a very large piece, and the English don't want that to happen. Palestine is still a part of the Ottoman Empire, but the Turks no longer have the power they once had.
Soon the Emersons, their adopted daughter Nefret, and David, the Egyptian grandson of the Emerson's deceased and greatly missed foreman, are in Jerusalem, along with some of their most experienced Egyptian diggers. They have written to Ramses and asked him to join them. He sets out from Samaria, but runs into trouble on the way. Amelia and her powerful and fearless husband have troubles of their own, including somehow getting stuck with the Rev. Panagopolous.
This is the nineteenth book in the Amelia Peabody "novel of suspense" series. It is enjoyable to go back in time to learn about earlier adventures. In the last book, TOMB OF THE GOLDEN BIRD, the characters were showing their age, and Emerson and Amelia could not have continued to participate in the usual strenuous and dangerous adventures for much longer. The change of scenery and local culture is a welcome break from Egypt. The Father of Curses is not feared and obeyed as he was in Egypt, making for some interesting predicaments. The family bonds at the heart of this and all the other Amelia Peabody novels are both tender and fierce. Don't mess with the Emersons, they will always prevail in the end.
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