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The Painted Queen: An Amelia Peabody Novel of Suspense (Amelia Peabody Series) by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess

Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

The Painted QueenThe Painted Queen finds Amelia and Emerson in Cairo on their way to another seasonal dig. While staying in Cairo before departing for the dig, a stranger intrudes upon Amelia while she is bathing, although he poses no threat given that he has a knife in his back. He is holding a piece of paper with Amelia’s name and room number as well as a card with “Judas” written on it. The beginning of this book is so typical of the series that I had great hopes. Alas, as the rest of the book unfolded, those hopes were dashed.

The Painted Queen is the final Amelia Peabody book. Joan Hess was contracted to finish this after Elizabeth Peters’s death. It was my understanding before I read the book, that Peters had left behind the book in an unfinished form and Ms Hess was to finish the book. That does not appear to be the case. I cannot imagine that anything other than a very rough outline was left behind, because, sadly, the characters in this, the last chapter in a long running and well written series hold on the shell of a resemblance to the Peters’ characters.

Fans of the series are used to Emerson’s bad temper and salty language. Emerson shouts out of anger. He should not be snipping sarcastically. An Emerson who clearly loves his wife but displays no emotion towards her ever-quite the contrast to this love-dove who keeps avowing his everlasting love of Peabody. We expect a brave fearless Amelia with a superior mind who figures things out, not this silly woman who asks for help and goes off willy nilly. Some of her antics border on slap-stick. Nefret and Ramses are get down and get dirty types of people. They are among the hardest working of the characters. But not in this book. Nefret is content to sit and sip tea all afternoon while Ramses seems to have turned into more of a country gentleman on vacation than a part of the family working on one of the biggest finds ever. Who are these people?

It is hard for an author to pick up another person’s series and carry on. If substantial notes are left behind, some such efforts tour out pretty well. Or in some cases, the new author has been given license to take the characters and more or less make them her own. That too works if readers are willing to accept that those works are “not the same” characters they are used to. In this case, it appears neither was the case.

Hess makes a valiant effort, but the characters just aren’t right.

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