The Painted Queen
by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess
Review by Mel Jacob
William Morrow Kindle Edition ISBN/ITEM#: 9780062083517
Date: 25 July 2017
The Painted Queen is the last Elizabeth Peters Amelia Peabody Mystery. The author died before finishing the novel and Joan Hess stepped in to complete the work in progress. It explains in part why Radcliffe Emerson seemed a tad off from other novels in the series. Familiar characters take a last bow including the mysterious Sethos, the Emersons son Ramses, and some of Emerson's workmen.
No sooner do Amelia and Radcliffe arrive in Cairo then Amelia is threatened by a man with a knife. He carries a note with word "Judas". She is saved by the intervention of a mysterious man she later presumes is Sethos, a scoundrel of sorts who dabbles in stealing antiquities and selling them to the highest bidder, but also has conceived a passion for Amelia in previous novels.
While at the hotel, Amelia also meets a woman writer of romantic novels who is determined to visit an archeological site. Amelia tries to dissuade her, but later the same woman turns up at Emerson's site and complicates matters.
The story centers on a German archaeologist's discovery of the head of an Egyptian queen. The cover picture immediately reveals the queen's identity. The archeologist and the head have disappeared so Emerson is asked to temporarily take on oversight of the excavation and determine its current state. While there, Amelia investigates the local house used by the archaeologist hoping to find clues as to his whereabouts. She learns he has gone to Cairo and follows.
However, no one in Cairo claims to have seen the man. While at her hotel, Amelia happens to notice a person standing in the rain outside and takes pity on him only to discover he is the missing archeologist. His memory is impaired, but she manages to discover he brought the item found at the site to Cairo. She presumes it was for cleaning.
Ramses, Amelia's son, and his friend David begin searching for the missing head. A copyist has been making replicas of the head and selling them. At one point, David is kidnapped and hidden in the basement of the German embassy. With Sethos's help, Ramses frees David. They manage to acquire a number of copies of the head, hoping the original is among the lot.
Action at the excavation site is on hold because a man claiming to be in charge is murdered. He was once linked to a laboratory site in Germany. At the time of this story, Germany had designs on Egypt and is trying to build support among Egyptian tribes.
As noted, this mystery does not quite live up to past Amelia Peabody mysteries. There are a number of secrets with some even an astute reader may miss. Coincidence plays too large a part while the depth of characters is somewhat less. In addition, there is not enough archeology and too few insights into the archeological process. However, most fans of Peters will forgive these lacks for a final visit with Amelia Peabody--archeologist and suffragette.