Book: “The Hippopotamus Pool” by Elizabeth Peters
Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, June 1997
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description: A masked stranger offers to reveal an Egyptian queen’s last tomb… and Amelia Peabody Emerson and her irascible archaeologist husband are intrigued, to say the least. When the guide mysteriously disappears before he tells his secret, the Emersons sail to Thebes to follow his trail, helped – and hampered – by their teenaged son, Ramses, and beautiful ward, Nefret. Before the sands of time shift very far, all will be risking their lives foiling murderers, kidnappers, grave robbers, and ancient curses. And the Hippopotamus Pool? It’s a legend of war and wits that Amelia is translating, one that alerts her to a hippo of a different type – a nefarious, overweight art dealer who may become her next archenemy!
Previously Reviewed: “The Crocodile on the Sandbank” and “The Curse of the Pharaohs” and “The Mummy Case” and “Lion in the Valley” and “Deeds of the Disturber” and “The Last Camel Died at Noon” and “The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog.”
Review: This is the most privileged-person reading problem ever: how do I continue to find creative ways of praising these books and this author without just sinking into repetitive gushing?? It’s problem, people.
Let’s just say that the strengths of this series are just as present in this book as they have been in the many before it. Amelia is ever the entertaining heroine (I’ve been listening to the audiobook version for the past several books, and it’s almost impossible now to separate the Amelia of the page and the Amelia that is brought to life with Barbara Rosenblatt’s expert and canny reading of her). Emerson, an excellent romantic hero, foibles and all. A mystery, complicated and full of new suspects. Villains, some old and some new.
But I will focus on a few of the newer bits of this story. For one, while there is comfort in the stability of Amelia, Emerson, and their relationship, it’s a nice balance to have it contrasted with the ever-evolving lives of their children. Ramses and Nefret are now teenagers, Ramses on the young teen side and Nefret right smack in the middle, an especially complicated age for a young woman of fortune.
For his part, Ramses is beginning to evolve his relationship from child-with-adults to putting out feelers establishing himself as an independent entity. His changing relationship with his parents is perfectly illustrated in small changes (calling them “mother and father” rather than “mama and papa”). But also comes into play in larger ways as he pushes for independence and respect. However, Ramses’s relationship with them is firmly bound in familial love and respect. So these struggles often present themselves instead in strained interactions with his “sister” Nefret.
The two are at a perfect point for frustration. Sixteen and fourteen are around the exact ages when two years represents a world of difference and both the older and younger sibling struggle. In this case, it is all the more challenging in the fact that while Nefret has been adopted by the Emersons, she is not their natural born daughter.
Peters strikes the perfect balance in this sibling relationship. They bicker and argue like all the best siblings, but there is also a clear underlying tension in the knowledge of their non-typical family relationship. Further, Nefret is still adjusting to life in British Society, with all of the ridiculous rules and impositions that come with it. Yes, she’s growing up with a “mother” who shirks much of this (lucky for Nefret!), but society itself has a way of pushing back, this time in the form of “suitors.”
I particularly loved Amelia’s attempts to parent a young daughter. She went from having one child, a very non-typical boy, at that. To having a pre-teen daughter who came with the added complications of being smart, headstrong, beautiful, and an heiress. But like anything, Amelia is up to the task. Theirs is a very nice example of female relationships, both maternal and friendly.
As I said, most of these stories come with the addition of new characters and you never quite know which ones are “one offs” or which are there to stay. We had Nefret introduced recently, but Peters wasn’t done there! Here we have the addition of David, a young boy (around Ramses’s age) who is loosely related to Abdullah, but through various mishaps has lead a life estranged from his family and raised to a life of crime. This will not do, of course! Particularly since Ramses forms a close, brotherly bond with David throughout this book. I feel confident that David is a character that is here to stay, and I’m excited to see what role he falls into in this strange family.
Beyond characters, this story is one of the first in a while to truly delve into a major dig, this time with the discovery of a queen’s tomb. While Egyptology is always important to these stories, there are varying degrees in each. I very much enjoyed having another mystery focused so closely on a dig.
Lastly, this book tackles some difficult topics with the sudden death of Evelyn and Walter’s infant child. Through Amelia’s eyes we see Evelyn’s struggle with this loss, the strain that is put on her and Walter’s marriage, and the process of living through grief. This also leads to Evelyn and Walter playing a much larger role in this book than they have for quite a long time. While the reason was tragic, I loved having these two characters back in a book. Evelyn especially. Not only does Amelia’s relationship with her lead to a deeper exploration of loss and depression, but Evelyn also rises through it into a role that was surprising and fun to read. Walter, on the other hand, had moments where I wanted to slap him upside his head. I can’t quite remember whether he always had some of the tendencies he put on display in this book, or whether this is evidence of Peters evolving his character over time and through experience. Don’t get he wrong, however, I still finished the book enjoying his character.
Well, hopefully I managed to cover some new ground in my praise of this book! But really, I’ll take the challenge of tricky reviews for the assurance of enjoyable novels any day. For fans of the Amelia Peabody mysteries, this is yet another to check out!
Rating 8: Yet another excellent story. This one tackles some tough issues, but handles them well and introduces another (hopefully!) main character.
Find “The Hippopotamus Pool” at your library using WorldCat.