Barbara G. Mertz uses her tremendous energy to write in two opposing genres, mystery and detective fiction (as Elizabeth Peters) and gothic romance (as Barbara Michaels). The bridge between Mertz’s alter egos is her knowledge of history, especially that of ancient Egypt. Her nonseries Peters titles are essentially historical romances hung on suspense plot lines. Her reputation as a mystery writer rests on her three detective series, particularly on the Amelia Peabody books.
In Peters’s series characters, she has created three distinctly different heroines, each educated, independent, and driven by curiosity as much as by a sense of justice. At one end of the spectrum there is Jacqueline Kirby, a university librarian who takes love where she finds it but does not allow herself to be defined by romantic entanglements. At the other end is Amelia Peabody (later Emerson), whose Egyptologist husband regards her as his equal (while the reader and Amelia know that she is his superior). The intermediate stage is occupied by Vicky Bliss, for whom Peters has invented Sir John Smythe, a delightful but unsuitable lover who disappears at the end of each book, thus relieving Vicky of the customary denouement of marriage and leaving her free to play the field.
Although sex and violence are never too far away, these soft-boiled sleuths remain unruffled by either. Peters’s detectives appeal to cozy mystery fans, who do not mind a little hot sex in the interest of relieving the tensions that naturally build during the course of investigating murder. Exotic settings, unlooked for chivalry, unladylike derring-do from mothers and librarians, and a good dose of historical adventure have built for Peters a devoted readership. Jacqueline, Amelia, and Vicky have also bolstered the ranks of women on the crime-fighting side of crime fiction.