Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sequels can be murder

Naked Once More, Elizabeth Peters

I was introduced to Elizabeth Peters' books more than 20 years ago, by my college roommate and fellow history major.  I started with the Amelia Peabody series, which I re-read every couple of years (except for the early lisping Ramses books).  From there I branched out to the other series, the Vicky Bliss and the Jacqueline Kirby books, and also to the books she wrote as Barbara Michaels.  Some of the Michaels books still give me the cold grues, all these years later.  The first time I read Ammie, Come Home I had to sleep with the light on, and I still don't read it or House of Many Shadows after dark.

The Elizabeth Peters listserv I belong to is discussing Naked Once More this month, and that led me to read it again for the first time in years.  It's the fourth and last of the Jacqueline Kirby books, which have never been as popular as the Amelia or Vicky books.  I'm not sure why, but I think it has something to do with the character of Jacqueline.  She is imperious, stubborn, self-dramatizing, sarcastic, and often impatient - much like Amelia and Emerson, actually.  On the other hand, she has a wicked sense of humor, she is a reader (and a librarian), she is a loyal friend, and she believes in justice and fair play, which is what gets her involved in solving crimes. 

In the third book of the series, Die for Love, Jacqueline abandons her career as a librarian to become a writer of bodice-ripping historical fiction.  In Naked Once More, she is offered the chance to write a sequel to a blockbuster novel, whose author Kathleen Darcy disappeared seven years ago under mysterious circumstances.  The book, Naked in the Ice, was "a unique blend of fantasy and fact, an adult Lord of the Rings, a literary Clan of the Cave Bear, a Pleistocene Gone With the Wind."  That description makes me want to read it! though I quibble with the idea that The Lord of the Rings isn't "adult" literature.  Once Jacqueline wins the commission, she travels to Kathleen Darcy's home, the small town of Pine Grove in western Pennsylvania.  There she meets Kathleen's family and friends. Diving into her papers and her past, Jacqueline discovers that Kathleen's life was in danger, and she begins investigating who might have wanted her dead or disappeared.  And then she finds herself becoming a target.

Both this book and Die For Love are as much about writing and publishing as they are about solving mysteries, in the same way that we learn about Egyptology in the Amelia books. Naked Once More was published in 1989, and of course the book business has changed quite a bit since then.  Though it may seem a bit dated (people still watch Donahue, and no one has a cell phone), it's still a great read, a twisty mystery with a varied cast of characters and Peters' trademark humor.  There seems to be a consensus among Peters' fans that because the Amelia books were so successful, her publishers only wanted more books in that series, rather than her other series or stand-alone books.  I do enjoy the Amelias, but I'd sure have liked another Jacqueline.

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Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!