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THE SERPENT ON THE CROWN
By Elizabeth Peters
Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel
Early in the new year of 1922, the Emerson clan is enjoying their tea on the veranda of their Luxor home, gazing at the Nile and contemplating their next archaeological excavation, when a mysterious lady in widow's weeds barges in. She introduces herself as Magda Petherick, widow of Pringle Petherick, a wealthy collector of Egyptian antiquities. She tells them her husband died because of a curse on one of his recent acquisitions, and begs them to take the item off her hands to prevent her own death. Emerson Sr. has a reputation for exorcising spells and curses of various kinds, and she believes he can safely deal with the problem. Amelia Emerson and Nefret, her son's wife, realizing that the lady is also known as Magda, Countess von Ormand, author of a series of novels featuring vampires and other supernatural creatures, believe she is just looking for publicity, and that the relic is probably a cheap fake. To Mrs. Emerson's astonishment, however, he agrees to help and accepts the gaudily painted wooden box, and the lady, much relieved, fades into the night.
The Emersons are stunned to discover that the box contains a solid gold statue of a young king, undoubtedly authentic and priceless. Realizing they have no right to keep such a valuable treasure, they prepare to either return it or offer to buy it for a fair price. Before they can do so, Magda's stepchildren, Adrian and Harriett Petherick, arrive on the scene to stake their own claim to the statue. Needless to say, they are shown the door. When their efforts to contact Magda are unsuccessful, the Emersons must protect the statue, and their family, from an assortment of avaricious collectors, nosy tourists, rapacious reporters, would-be thieves, and black-clad, soul-sucking afrits, while trying to find out where it came from and who rightfully owns it.
As in the more recent books in the series, the younger generation is gradually taking over the reins - including taking most of the beatings and getting involved in most of the life-threatening situations. Ramses now has a Ph.D. and his own interest in Egyptian written language, and Nefret is involved with providing medical care for the poor. They are beginning to pull away from their father's orbit, which Amelia understands and tries to abet. The twins, now five, have distinct and interesting personalities, and one wonders if the scholarly David John and his spirited sister Charla will one day take their place in the family archaeological dynasty.
This is the seventeenth book in the series, which covers almost forty years and three generations. I strongly recommend that anyone new to the series start at the beginning, so that they can get the full enjoyment of watching the family, and the science of archaeology, develop and evolve through time. Many of the recurring characters, particularly Emerson's half-brother Sethos and their foster daughter/daughter-in-law Nefret, have complex stories of their own. For those who have traveled with the Emersons from the beginning, you will enjoy visiting with old friends and meeting new villains. The golden statue plays an important role in the latest adventure, Tomb of the Golden Bird, where the Emersons become involved in the greatest discovery in Egyptian archaeology.
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