Review of Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters (1975) (Amelia Peabody #1)

Posted by on Jan 13, 2014

Bottom line: A fun Victorian cozy set on the banks of the Nile

Rating: Recommended


Set in 1884, this is the first installment in what has become a beloved bestselling series. At thirty-two, strong-willed Amelia Peabody, a self-proclaimed spinster, decides to use her ample inheritance to indulge her passion, Egyptology. On her way to Egypt, Amelia encounters a young woman named Evelyn Barton-Forbes. The two become fast friends and travel on together, encountering mysteries, missing mummies, and Radcliffe Emerson, a dashing and opinionated archaeologist who doesn’t need a woman’s help — or so he thinks.


Elizabeth Peters might be the author that I find most hit-or-miss. A few moves ago, someone at our local library had a thing for her writing and they had stocked maybe a dozen or more of her books. I read several, as they are mostly light mysteries with some romance thrown in. Longtime readers know by now that I love books that give a good sense of local ambience, especially if they’re set in exotic locations. This series is set in Egypt in the late 1800s. She has a couple of other series, and some standalone novels. Her strengths are ambience, archeology (the author had a Ph.D in Egyptology), and voice – although mystery authors seem bound by law to make their characters “quirky”, I often find hers genuinely amusing. I think some of her weaknesses are plot – the mystery part of the novel is often the weakest piece, and voice.

But wait! I just said voice was one of her strengths! This is why I find her to be so hit or miss. If she’s just focused on telling the story, I think that comes across and her characters are fun and charming and all the rest of it. When she’s making her points (she was a Feminist with a capital F), I find that the characters and story suffer – when I as a reader start rolling my eyes going, “I get it, women are equal to or greater than men, just get on with the book!” that pulls me out of my flow of reading and generally irritates me. To be fair, anything that pulls me out of the flow of reading is going to irritate me (you can ask my husband).

So some of her books are cozy mysteries at their best – light, fun, and interesting – and some of her books feel stilted, forced, and repetitive. Though I have read several in the Peabody series (by the way, if there are any series authors out there, please, please, PLEASE list the order of your books somewhere on the actual book! I hate having to dig through every novel on the shelf to try to arrange by publication date so I can find the first in the series. Even with a smart phone it’s not always easy to find quickly on the internet. Anyways, I digress…), I had never read this first one until a recent recommendation by a friend. It’s by far my favorite by Peters. If you’re interested in trying her writing, this one certainly gets my top recommendation.

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