The most successful aspect of the novel is Peters’ careful portrayal of her feminist heroine’s marriage. The novel shows how Peabody’s femininity has a humanizing effect on her volatile husband as the couple copes with rearing their child-genius son, Ramses. Unfortunately, Peters presents a murder mystery that is executed far less skillfully than the domestic drama that occupies much of the book. Peters’ melodramatic account rarely escapes from the cliches of the mystery genre.
Peters’ characterization is always good, and she expresses this through subtle dialogue. In other ways, however, the novel’s style is annoying. To pass off Peabody’s first-person narration as a Victorian diary, Peters resorts to ponderous sentences that bear little resemblance to the work of the best nineteenth century writers. This tedious prose is occasionally ridiculous, as when the archaeologist/detective Peabody says that “a slight detectival interlude has interrupted our excavations for a time.” In an especially melodramatic reference to a criminal, Peabody writes “though we had foiled his dastardly schemes, he had eluded our vengeance.”
Peters would be well advised to capitalize on her gift for dramatic dialogue. If there is to be a sixth Amelia Peabody story, it should be a screenplay about interpersonal dynamics among Egyptologists.