Saturday, September 21, 2013

Death of the author of a much-loved series


Much of my most memorable reading in the late 1990s into the 2000s was written by the late Elizabeth Peters. I love the Amelia Peabody series and am quite sure that in some parallel universe Amelia, Emerson, Ramses, and Nefret are living out their lives. I suspect that some of their quality of 'realness' is due to the narrator Barbara Rosenblat. I listened to all the books, in the days when I'd rent tapes from Recorded Books. I'd listen before bed, and upon awakening during the night, and I'd listen in the car. I wrote about my feelings quite extensively in a book report on A River in the Sky; and I jotted down a few notes when I reread Crocodile on the Sandbank last summer. I learned so much about Egypt and the world of archeology because of the author's great knowledge.

There was a period of time when the lives of Ramses, David, and Nefret paralled those of my own children. Elizabeth Peters began an ingenious device as the children in her books grew older. She offered their points of view of the same events that Amelia had told us about. If you've ever been a parent of teenagers, you will understand it was quite harrowing to read just how different those experiences were. While Amelia thought all was fine, the kids would be leaving a boat and swimming to shore in the wee hours, or disguising themselves and getting into all sorts of trouble. It was reassuring, but fear-inducing at the same time, as I wondered about how much I really knew of my own children's lives in those worrisome years.

The author wrote other series under different names, but this is the only one I read. Her real name was Barbara Mertz, and I was so saddened to read of her death last month. It felt like a friend had left my world.

There's a wonderful pdf here of the celebration of her last birthday. Also, the official website is a font of information.
 




Barbara Mertz Dead: Mystery Writer Dies At 85

NEW YORK — Barbara Mertz, a best-selling mystery writer who wrote dozens of novels under two pen names, has died. She was 85.

Mertz died Thursday morning at her home, in Frederick, Md., her daughter Elizabeth told her publisher HarperCollins.

Mertz wrote more than 35 mysteries under the name Elizabeth Peters, including her most popular series about a daring Victorian archaeologist named Amelia Peabody. She also wrote 29 suspense novels under the pen name Barbara Michaels, and under her own name, she wrote nonfiction books about ancient Egypt.

Born Barbara Louise Gross, Mertz grew up in small-town Illinois during the Depression and went to the University of Chicago on scholarship, where she wrote on her website, "I was supposed to be preparing myself to teach – a nice, sensible career for a woman."

But her true love was archaeology, and she soon found herself drawn to the department of Egyptology. She received a Ph.D. at the age of 23.

In the post-World War II era, she wasn't encouraged to enter the field. "I recall overhearing one of my professors say to another, `At least we don't have to worry about finding a job for her. She'll get married,'" she wrote.

She did, and while raising two children, she decided to try her hand at mystery writing. It wasn't until the family moved to Germany – and had the luxury of household help – that she wrote something that attracted an agent. She wrote two nonfiction books about Egypt under her own name before having her first fiction published, "The Master of Blacktower," under the Michaels name.

"When my agent called to say I'd sold a novel, after I calmed down, she told me, `You'll need a pen name,'" Mertz told The Associated Press in 1998. Barbara Michaels became her pseudonym for a series of books in the supernatural, Victorian gothic genre.

"When I wrote a different kind, the publisher said I'd need another pseudonym," she says. "There's always the notion people are going to use the nasty word prolific about you."

Under the Peters name – a combination of her children's first names – she produced several mystery series, including 19 books about Peabody. When the series began, with "Crocodile on the Sandbank" in 1975, Amelia pursued her adventures while pregnant. The series continued until her son, Ramses, was grown.

"Between Amelia Peabody and Indiana Jones, it's Amelia – in wit and daring – by a landslide," Paul Theroux wrote in a New York Times appreciation.

Mertz described the character to the AP as a sentimental woman who solved mysteries by guessing but nonetheless thought of herself as logical: "I want to kick her sometimes."

As she wrote about her forceful heroine, Peters said she became more like her. Once, she said, "I was mealy mouthed, timid, never spoke up, let people push me around."

She divorced in the 1970s, but continued her fiction writing despite financial concerns.

In 1998, Mertz received the grandmaster lifetime achievement award from the Mystery Writers of America, the top award from the mystery writers group.

"It has taken me over a quarter of a century to realize that I love to write, and that this is what I should have focused on from the beginning," she wrote on her website.

Mertz is survived by her children, Elizabeth and Peter, and six grandchildren.


21 comments:

  1. Nan...it is sad to lose a favorite author. I must have not been reading you yet or else missed your earlier review, because the Elizabeth Peters series would definitely have gone on my TBR list (she will now). It must have been harrowing to read those parts from the teenagers' points of view as opposed to the mom when your own kids were teenagers. It was often troubling enough to listen to our four talk when they were first grown and gone and we'd get together for family events.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I bet you'll love these books.
      Boy I know what you mean about kids talking about the past. I'd just as soon not know, even now. :<)))

      Delete
  2. Barbara Mertz/Michaels/Elizabeth Peters was one of my favorite authors ever. I have enjoyed several books in the Amelia Peabody series, but I have not read them all. I first read her Barbara Michaels books, starting in junior high. AMMIE COME HOME was my initial venture into her gothic (sometimes paranormal) romantic suspense. I loved those type of books in my teens. There are also several of her Elizabeth Peters standalone books that I've read over and over. I fine it fascinating that she had her Ph.D. in Egyptology at the age of 23. Wow. I'm sorry to see her go, but she will be remembered by me forevermore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Didn't you read the Vicky Bliss series too? I've never been a fan of gothic, paranormal, or romantic suspense. :<))
      I love your last sentence. The best praise an author could have.

      Delete
  3. I have enjoyed the Amelia books too, but haven't read all of them. I was sad when I heard of the author's death. And I too was horrified years after the fact to hear some of the things my teen aged children were up to when I thought them just having a nice time with friends......(But all's well that ends well!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. With a loud 'whew' from the parents that they all came through okay. :<)

      Delete
  4. Rats. I know nothing about this author. But, her face is so clear and lovely. It seems that I would like her if I knew her more. How sad to be introduced at the end of her life, but at least you have brought her to my awareness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love how you described her face. Wouldn't she have liked your words. There are many, many mystery writers and fiction writers that I am discovering all the time who have been dead for a long time. There's a great quote - "the oldest books are still only just out to those who have not read them." Samuel Butler.

      Delete
  5. Oh, so sad to read this, Nan. Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody books make up one of my all time favorite series. I've forgotten how many times I've re-read some of those books. Jeez, I'm sorry to hear the sad news.

    A friend's granddaughter was so influenced by these books that she is determined to become an Egyptologist when she grows up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love that about the girl. The power of books!!

      Delete
    2. At the moment I'm listening to CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK on audio for the umpteenth time. It's my way of honoring the memory of a great lady and terrific writer.

      Delete
  6. I don't think I've read any of her books, Nan. She sounds like a very kind, industrious lady, and it is always sad learning about the death of someone whose work we liked so much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Her heroine is just the best! I think you'd get a kick out of her.

      Delete
  7. I haven't read her books, but have added the Amelia Peabody ones to my to-read list; I like the premise of a female Victorian archaeologist. Thank you for highlighting her work and her life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She is truly delightful, and she and Emerson have a great relationship.

      Delete
  8. The Jacqueline Kirby books were my favorites. Another author my mother shared with me. I'll have to give Amelia another try.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I never read the JK books but I so love Amelia Peabody. One of the best fictional characters ever.

      Delete
  9. I had no idea that this had happened. She was such a funny, original, clever and versatile writer. Thank you for blogging this.

    Sue

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And thank you for leaving me a note. I love what you wrote about the author.

      Delete
  10. Nan - I hadn't realised you were blogging again! I haven't been around much myself this year, so I'd missed your posts. So glad to see you back. Wasn't it sad to hear about Elizabeth Peters - I've enjoyed the Vicky Bliss and Jacqueline Kirby books as well, but there's something quite unique about Amelia Peabody. I rather want to start over and read them all in order, something I've never managed up to now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gosh, I should have told you. I'm sorry. Tlove how their lives change as the years go on.

      Delete

I am really going to try and respond to your comments as soon as they come in! Please do come back if you've asked a question.
Also, you may comment on any post, no matter how old, and I will see it.