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Crocodile on the Sandbank (1975)

by Elizabeth Peters

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,0912022,251 (3.93)297
Amelia Peabody, that indomitable product of the Victorian age, embarks on her first Egyptian adventure armed with unshakable self-confidence, a journal to record her thoughts, and, of course, a sturdy umbrella. Along the way, she meets up with Evelyn Barton-Forbes, the Emerson brothers, and a lively mummy. How Amelia arranges all to her satisfaction is just one of the pleasures of this delightfully witty mystery.… (more)
  1. 101
    Soulless by Gail Carriger (nessreader, lquilter)
    nessreader: The heroine of Soulless has a similar outlook to early Amelia Peabody (but I should warn that the Peabody series is cosy crime/romance, with no supernatural element while Soulless is gleeful fantasy) Both have strong willed on-the-shelf spinsters who are active protagonists in their story.… (more)
    lquilter: Without knowing, I'd imagine that Gail Carriger had read Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series (beginning with Crocodile on the Sandbank) before writing Blameless (et seq). Similar era, similarly cranky and forthright spinster protagonist, similar sort of love affair, similar witty dialog and observations. The Amelia Peabody books are, of course, "straight" historical mystery, without the steampunk elements of Carriger's series, but I imagine that Carriger fans who read out-of-genre also will enjoy the Peters' series. Similarly, Peters fans who like SF, steampunk, or vampires/werewolves, might enjoy the Carriger series.… (more)
  2. 30
    Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury (_Zoe_)
    _Zoe_: Wrapped is YA and considerably fluffier, but it shares the common element of an independent-minded nineteenth-century woman encountering an Egyptological mystery.
  3. 30
    The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman (foggidawn)
  4. 20
    Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase (Caramellunacy)
    Caramellunacy: Mr Impossible is a Regency romance novel set in Egypt. The strong intelligent heroine is something of an expert in Egyptian antiquities and is determined to help her brother get out of trouble. The general premise is a lot like the movie The Mummy. Those who enjoyed the romantic angle and the Egyptian setting in Crocodile on the Sandbank may find a lot to like in Chase's Mr Impossible.… (more)
  5. 20
    Letters from Egypt: A journey on the Nile, 1849-1850 by Florence Nightingale (Cynara)
    Cynara: Florence went down the Nile in a dahabiyya thirty-two years before the great fictional Victorian lady Amelia Peabody, but there's still much overlap!
  6. 31
    Changeless by Gail Carriger (majkia)
    majkia: Alexia Terabotti Maccon and Amelia Peabody seriously have a lot in common. And not just parasols. Also bear shaped husbands, attitude, and intrepidity (if that's a word)
  7. 00
    Valley of the Kings by Cecelia Holland (themulhern)
    themulhern: The books are very different in tone. The shared theme is archaeology and Akhenaten.
  8. 00
    Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt by Barbara Mertz (themulhern)
    themulhern: The Egyptological fiction by this author really complements her Egyptological non-fiction and vice-versa. I read the non-fiction because I had been reading the fiction, and I'm happy to say that the non-fiction does deepen one's understanding of the fiction. But it is also possible that after reading the non-fiction one might dip into the fiction and find that one was enjoying the fiction much more because of one's existing knowledge.… (more)
  9. 00
    The Gilded Shroud by Elizabeth Bailey (4leschats)
  10. 00
    Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark by Donna Simpson (Caramellunacy)
    Caramellunacy: Both novels feature a prickly, very intelligent 'spinster' unravelling a seemingly paranormal mystery while charming a large and irascible love interest. There were snippets of dialogue in Lady Anne that definitely reminded me of the Amelia Peabody novels. Crocodile on the Sandbank - archaeological mystery set in Egypt. Lady Anne - Gothic romance… (more)
  11. 11
    Blameless by Gail Carriger (lquilter)
    lquilter: Without knowing, I'd imagine that Gail Carriger had read Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series (beginning with Crocodile on the Sandbank) before writing Blameless (et seq). Similar era, similarly cranky and forthright spinster protagonist, similar sort of love affair, similar witty dialog and observations. The Amelia Peabody books are, of course, "straight" historical mystery, without the steampunk elements of Carriger's series, but I imagine that Carriger fans who read out-of-genre also will enjoy the Peters' series. Similarly, Peters fans who like SF, steampunk, or vampires/werewolves, might enjoy the Carriger series.… (more)
  12. 00
    And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander (Caramellunacy)
    Caramellunacy: Unconventional heroines rebel against Victorian mores to pursue their intellectual interests. The Elizabeth Peters novels are sillier (including prodding people with parasols) and is set against a backdrop of Egyptian archaeology. The Tasha Alexander mysteries are less openly subversive of Victorian morals, and And Only to Deceive draws on Homer's Iliad.… (more)

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English (197)  German (2)  French (1)  Piratical (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (202)
Showing 1-5 of 197 (next | show all)
I enjoyed a lot about this book, though there were quite a few racial slurs that made me uncomfortable. It may have just been being true to the era when the book is set, but it still had moments that were unpleasant to read. There is also mention of a suicide attempt by one of the secondary characters early on in the book, but it is not graphic and we do not see her POV.

I've seen this on lists of cozy mysteries, but to me it doesn't quite fit the feel of a cozy. While some of the elements fit (amateur detective, female main character, not gory or overly violent) it just didn't have the tone of a cozy to me. Which is fine! I like a good historical mystery too, I just don't read as many of them.

This was a fun read, in part because I love reading about / seeing movies about / learning about Ancient Egypt. I will admit that I figured out the "who" part of the whodunnit early on, but I couldn't determine the "why" and so I was doubting myself. Definitely a book to pick up for a fun historical mystery, as long as you're able to handle some dated racial stereotypes with your mystery. ( )
  ca.bookwyrm | Sep 29, 2021 |
Good! Relatively predictable but hilarious and enjoyable. One of my pet peeves was that I was so engrossed in the plot that I had little time to slow down and enjoy the eccentricities of the characters. While the direction the characters would take was extremely predictable on a reread skim I realized that I had missed some good fun. Also Amelia is hard to picture once you get past the beginning. . . But maybe she would always be that way anyway. ( )
  OutOfTheBestBooks | Sep 24, 2021 |
In the year 1884, Amelia Peabody decides that she needs to start living for herself, so she makes arrangements to travel to Rome and then to Egypt. She has been educated very thoroughly in all things Egyptology related, including speaking the languages of Greek, Latin and Hebrew. The one language she has not learned is Arabic. Fortunately she is a spinster, aged 32 and has no dependents to hold her back.

In Rome her travelling companion sadly dies of typhoid, but Amelia soons finds another. This new girl is a penniless waif named Evelyn, whose aristocratic grandfather has disowned her because she, Evelyn, ran off with an Italian lover named Alberto. Alberto dumped her in Rome after he learned that the grandfather had disowned her so she was eventually found on the streets crumpled and starving.

Amelia looks after her and takes this poor girl under her wing. Together they both sail to Egypt - first to Alexandria and then up the Nile Delta to Cairo.

After several weeks of exploring Cairo, Amelia and Evelyn set sail for the Upper Nile. They plans to stop at Amarna, the place where the heretic Pharoah Akhenaten built his city to the monoetheistic god.

Upon arrival at Amarna, Amelia and Evelyn meet the archaeologists on site - Radcliffe Emerson and his younger brother Walter. It appears to be love at first sight for Evelyn and Walter. But it is acrimony at first site for Amelia and Emerson. They argue about archaeological procedure and polices and what could be done and what should be done and why it is not being done etc etc.

The next few months involve a few adventures, injuries and some near misses as both Evelyn and Amelia must battle stubborn men and their own hearts.

Despite my having read a number of the Amelia Peabody books, I had never ever read the first book. So I had no idea how Amelia had met her husband. Now I know.

This was a great story. Especially since it was set at Amarna, which is the location of the heretic pharoah Akhenaten, who built a city to the monoetheistic god. This was also supposed to be at the time of Moses and there is a possibility that the Jews may have had some influence over the Pharaohs of that time. But this is just a theory. Nothing is known for certain yet.

I gave this story 4 stars because it was full of adventure and kept me interested that I read the whole book in one day.

I have always liked Amelia. and now I know why!!! ( )
  Robloz | Sep 23, 2021 |
This book is a bit of an older vintage, since it has been written in 1975, but it still reads extremely fresh – or rather, it would, if this was not the kind of book you’re unlikely to find in publisher catalogs today. It’s a slow-burning, slowly building mystery that reads like a mix of a gothic story, an Agatha Christie novel and an Indiana Jones novelization, with a middle-aged, self-reliant heroine who has both the makings of an excellent governess and of an even more excellent army surgeon, who orders men around and is obeyed even when those men think she is being a meddling, ignorant woman, because not doing what Amelia Peabody wants is never a good idea. Nowadays, you might say she wasn’t a likable character, but good lord does Amelia Peabody not care whether anybody likes her or not. It’s not her job to be liked. In fact, as an independent heiress of her father’s if not fortune, then still rather considerable wealth, nothing is her job if she doesn’t want it to be. The job she wants is that of an archeologist, and when the opportunity arises, she grabs it by the throat and doesn’t let it go till it surrenders and gives her whatever she wants. Amelia Peabody is the kind of person I want to be, even though I might not personally fancy crouching in the sand and being burned to a crisp day in and day out. (Other than, say, Ella, who would love to become a archeologist-flavored crisp.)


“Crocodile on the Sandbank” is the first book in a series 19 historical mysteries by Egyptologist Barbara Mertz aka Elizabeth Peters, and as such it sets the scene for the whole premise of ‘Amelia Peabody, archeologist adventurer’.

We first meet Amelia shortly after the death of her father, and we learn her reasons for not marrying (namely, that she’s no interested in any of her suitors and feels that most of them are out for her fortune anyway, since she’s not exactly of marrying age anymore). Instead of finding a husband and giving up all that nice money, she decides that, after years of being her father’s helpmate and then nurse, it’s time for her to indulge a little, so she decides to spend the winter sailing up the Nile, like many English people did in the 1880s. But when she comes to Rome, from where she’s supposed to sail to Alexandria, her travel companion becomes sick – and without a travel companion, there is no way even a woman in her 30s could go to Egypt (and even today that’d be kind of a bummer, wouldn’t it? Who wants to spend the whole winter all alone?). But lo and behold, on a walk through Rome she stumbles over Evelyn Barton-Forbes, an English girl sick and down on her luck after she eloped with her Italian tutor and then was left by said Italian tutor, in a city where she doesn’t know anybody, and with no way back, since her grandfather disinherited her. And so, Amelia found herself a travel companion after all, and off they go to Egypt.

I don’t usually put plot descriptions into my reviews, but I love the set-up of “Crocodile on the Sandbank” a lot, even though the beginning is a little slow, especially because the whole book is narrated by Amelia herself and her often slightly meandering style takes a little getting used to. Once you do get used to the style of the book, though, it just feels so authentic that I actually found myself thinking that the book might have been written a lot earlier than 1975 (this is again a case of a friend recommending me a book and me reading it without even looking up when it was written). At no point does the description of Amelia’s surroundings sound anything but absolutely natural, if kind of sober, except when Amelia starts waxing poetic about archeology and archeological findings. There is also a lot of jargon and a lot of the kind of professional gossip that just makes you feel like you’re there yourself, in 1880s Egypt, hearing about all those new developments and controversies in the world of archeology.

I guess ‘new developments in archeology’ should be a great segue to Emerson, but to be honest, I don’t like Emerson, so let me talk about Evelyn first, because Evelyn I do like, very much so. If anybody had tried to create a character just for me to enjoy, then I’m pretty sure that character would be very close to Evelyn. She is kind, shy, and, let’s face it, kind of fatalistic, and she faints about 8 times in the novel (seriously, so much fainting), which makes her a very stark contrast to no-nonsense, cast-iron parasol wielding Amelia, whose only reason to faint would be if she worked under the brooding Egyptian sun for 12 hours without drinking a sip of water, which is a very likely thing for her to do.

But still, Evelyn might not be physically strong, but when the going gets rough, she is very much able to hold her own and to postpone the fainting on later, when it’s save to do so. She is also amazingly loyal to Amelia – and she is also the most likely person to make sure that Amelia does not spend 12 hours under the brooding Egyptian sun without drinking some water. Evelyn doesn’t only pay back her salvation by Amelia by being her constant companion and helpmate, even in very difficult situations (did I mention that Amelia fancies herself an amateur nurse?), but by opening up to her, showing Amelia her most secret wounds, she also gets Amelia to open up herself. Theirs is one of the most beautiful female friendships I’ve read in a long while, and, let’s face it, there aren’t that many of those in fiction in general.


Okay, now let’s actually talk about Emerson. God, I hate that guy. I guess he redeems himself later, and I guess his assholery plays into the whole broody-hero-trope, but just… What. An. Asshole. He basically introduces himself to Amelia by yelling at her for gently removing some dust from an extremely neglected exhibition piece in an extremely neglected museum, implying that she is a stupid woman and that she is a ‘rampageous British female at her clumsiest and most arrogant’. And then he just keeps on insulting her. I hate this guy. He might be a visionary archeologist and Egyptologist, and he does get a little less obnoxious later on – a little – and the fact that his brother Walter is a huge sweetheart makes reading about him a little more bearable – again, a little – but still, I did not grow to like him. What an ass.

It might be thanks to the rather matter-of-fact writing style of the book that I still enjoyed it so much, even with Emerson being his asshole-y self. The book never actually claims that Emerson is not an asshole, just that he and Amelia have the kinds of personalities that sometimes work well together. I didn’t need to like him to understand why Amelia eventually takes a liking to him. And to be honest, that is quite an achievement.

One thing I did like was the portrayal of Egyptian natives in the book. There was definitely a certain distance between the native Egyptian characters of the book and the English characters, but in a book set in 1880s Egypt, that is pretty much a given. However, Amelia shows great respect both for her translator Michael and for the crew of the pleasure ship she chartered, under Captain Hassan. As I already said, Amelia fancies herself an amateur nurse, and she earns quite a bit of respect among the men on her ship by stitching them up whenever there is any kind of injury. This mutual respect creates a certain loyalty between both the crew and Amelia, which later turns out to be of vital importance for the plot. And while there are several descriptions of misogynistic behavior among the Egyptian natives in this book, the fact that Radcliff ‘Let’s Yell at Strangers’ Emerson is also in this book at least makes it clear that misogynistic thoughts, actions and words aren’t a monopoly of Muslim men.

The plot of “Crocodile on the Sandbank” is a mix of travel novel and mystery, though less of the whodunit kind and more of the gothic-inspired ‘we need to figure out what is behind these strange goings on’. There is a mummy, and there is an action-packed finale involving so many characters that at some point you’re like ‘Wait, who’s where now?’, but the whole thing is a lot of fun, even though the mystery plot really only kicks in properly at the 50% mark of the book. Still, the thing that I enjoyed most wasn’t necessarily the plot, but the characters, the descriptions of 1880s Egypt (which were surprisingly less racist than I’d have imagined), and Amelia’s very palpable love of archeology. The book might be over 40 years old by now, but it honestly is a perfect example of how the distance between an author and a historical novel, especially if an author is an expert on the subject field she writes in, can transcend time differences between an author and a reader, so that it just feels so fresh and current that I’m pretty sure it’s still going to be a great read in another 40 years.

Want to read more of my reviews? Visit me on The Bookabelles Blog or follow me here on Goodreads :) ( )
  LadyLudovica | Sep 20, 2021 |
In the 1880s forceful Amelia Peabody has at 32 inherited a fortune, and has decided to indulge her desire to travel and her passion in Egyptology. On her way to Cairo she meets Evelyn Barton-Forbes and they join together to travel down the Nile. Her adventure really starts when they meet the Emerson brothers.
A very enjoyable well-written read ( )
  Vesper1931 | Jul 29, 2021 |
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added by AoifeT | editDear Author, Janet (Jul 12, 2010)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elizabeth Petersprimary authorall editionscalculated
Longo, IgorTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Malley, SusanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosenblat, BarbaraNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The love of my beloved is on yonder side. A width of water is between us, and a crocodile waiteth on the sandbank. - Ancient Egyptian love poem
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When I first set eyes on Evelyn Barton-Forbes she was walking the streets of Rome -
"Stop," he ordered, in a low but compelling voice. "Do no take another step, or I fire! D--- it," he added vexedly, "does the monstrosity understand English? How absurd this is!" "It understands the gesture, at least," I called, thrusting head and shoulders through the window. "Lucas, for pity's sake, seize it! Don't stand there deriding its linguistic inadequacies!"
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Amelia Peabody, that indomitable product of the Victorian age, embarks on her first Egyptian adventure armed with unshakable self-confidence, a journal to record her thoughts, and, of course, a sturdy umbrella. Along the way, she meets up with Evelyn Barton-Forbes, the Emerson brothers, and a lively mummy. How Amelia arranges all to her satisfaction is just one of the pleasures of this delightfully witty mystery.

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