Friday, December 23, 2011

Book 41 – Crocodile on the Sandbank

By Elizabeth Peters

Olman picked up this book while we were in the Maritimes this summer and highly recommended it to me, saying I’d really like the heroine, Amelia Peabody - “a feisty and headstrong Victorian woman, who embodies all the values of the British Empire, but is somewhat restricted by doing so in a female form” - as well as the friendship that develops between Peabody and a younger woman (no, there is no lezzing out á la Fingersmith).  Just don’t expect it to be a satisfying mystery.

Olman was right. I did enjoy Crocodile on the Sandbank very much. The beginning was awesome, as it sets up the adventure in which Amelia Peabody is about to begin. What else is an unconventional Victorian woman to do when she inherits a modest fortune and has no wish to marry? She embarks on an exotic voyage, of course! Almost immediately, she rescues, adopts and befriends an abandoned, fallen young woman named Evelyn, who becomes her travelling companion. You can’t help but admire this female protagonist, who proclaims:

I may say, without undue egotism, that when I make up my mind to do something, it is done quickly. The lethargic old city of the Popes fairly quaked under my ruthless hand during the following week.”

For once, I am of complete accord with Olman on both the strengths and weaknesses of Crocodile on the Sandback - it had a great premise that got undermined by the narrative.  I also agree with Olman that there wasn’t much of a mystery, and that the so-called mystery was actually in service of the narrative, which is more of action-adventure than a mystery (which I guessed early on anyway, so it must have been pretty obvious!).


Even more so than Olman, I was terribly disappointed with the ending when Amelia got married and had a child. Don’t get me wrong, as I quite enjoyed the sexual tension between her and Emerson. But what made Peabody so appealing for me was her fierce independence and unconventionality. She was proud being a thirty-two year old spinster, and makes a point of explaining her opinions about marriage to Evelyn:

…my nature does not lend itself to the meekness required of a wife in our society. I could not endure a man who would let himself be ruled by me, and I would not endure a man who tried to rule me.

As a result, I wasn’t expecting Peabody to settle down so soon, and was hoping that her romance with Emerson would continue for at least a few more books, so that readers could enjoy her as Amelia Peabody (not Emerson), not beholden to any man, or any prosaic duties of domesticity. So I'm in no dire need to read the next book.  But like Olman, I wouldn’t say no if someone were to lend me the next Peabody book.

Addendum:  after perusing the wikipedia, it seems that Peters had originally thought this was a one-off, and I think the book was so popular that a series was born.  Peters had rued the fact that in Crocodile, she had stated Peabody's age, and would've probably made her a few years younger had she been planning a whole series.  So that was interesting to know.

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