Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Laughter of Dead Kings (Elizabeth Peters)

With all the negative connotations that come with being stereotypically tall, buxom, blue-eyed and blonde, it's a wonder that Elizabeth Peters can still turn her Dr. Vicky Bliss into a charming character. I guess it's the reason why I've been patiently following her Vicky Bliss series for years now. Vicky is smart and self-deprecating (her biggest gripe is that no one takes her seriously, looking like she does), practical yet given to fits of emotion, and generally the kind of person I'd want with me on an adventure. She's an American working for the National Museum in Munich and her specialization in medieval art often finds her poking her nose into some art forgery investigation or a smuggling ring. The series began in the seventies, with Borrower of the Night and the most recent title, The Laughter of Dead Kings, was published more than twenty years after.

Dead Kings rounds up familiar faces: Vicky's lover, the now-reformed art thief John Smythe/Tregarth, and her boss Anton Schmidt. This time, the mummy of King Tut has been stolen and being held for ransom, and John is everyone's prime suspect. When the couple's friend Faisal asks for help in finding the missing mummy, Vicky and John can't resist, especially since they get to clear John's name while doing it. For the first time since reading the series, I became very aware of the time period. Most of the Vicky Bliss books have been set (at least in my mind) during some generic, almost indistinguishable, time frame. This really helped me to view the work as timeless instead of dated. In Vicky's latest adventure though, modern technology has come into play. It's not exactly unwelcome especially since it would have been difficult for the characters to communicate in a contemporary setting without a mobile phone, but it did make me realize that Vicky Bliss is changing with the times.

The mystery in The Laughter of Dead Kings was a bit predictable, but I don't know if it was because I've been so accustomed to Ms Peters' writing that it was easy for me to put two and two together. There was a dearth of suspects for me so there were no surprises for me at the end. But despite that, I still greatly enjoyed reading about Vicky and her friends. They're part of my literary family, characters I've grown so used to and have loved and admired all these years. The Laughter of Dead Kings may not be for readers who are unfamiliar with Vicky Bliss, but longtime fans will find that there is still a lot to be enjoyed in this installment.

No comments: