On September 29 — Barbara Mertz’s birthday — we can happily celebrate a year during which Barbara’s legacy has flourished with the publication of her final novel, The Painted Queen — finished by her dear friend, Joan Hess. (For more on Hess’s labors, assisted by another Barbara friend, Salima Ikram, see our earlier blog post.…)
Painted Queen debuted at #7 on the New York Times bestseller list, and #5 on the Washington Post bestseller list. What a testament to the pent-up demand of many fans who had been waiting for this final chapter of the Amelia series! Chronologically, the final book was Tomb of the Golden Bird, published in 2006. Barbara said she wanted her beloved characters to go off into the sunset happily, and that she wanted to write the actual ending of the series while she was still at full strength in terms of her writing. She had commented admiringly on Agatha Christie’s similar decision to write the endings for her sleuths Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot long before the end of her writing career. But where Christie held the final books for publication until the very last, Barbara published her final Amelia and then went back to fill in “missing years” in the Peabody/Emerson chronicles. Queen is the last of these fill-in novels.
Barbara was so invested in this final novel that she actually asked friend — and voice of the Peabody/Emerson clan — Barbara Rosenblat to perform a public reading of the then-unfinished book. Rosenblat read this early part of the novel at a ceremony in which the Maryland Library Association honored Mertz — attending in the author’s stead because she was too ill at the time to go. Rosenblat assumed that the book would never be finished. As it turned out, she was able to do one more Amelia reading after all!
So, happy birthday — here’s to Barbara! — and to Joan and Salima and “Rosenblat” (affectionately) and to the whole community that continues to love and breathe life into the worlds that Peters and Michaels left us.
[**Readers of Silhouette in Scarlet will appreciate the picture above of a hand-cut silhouette made of Barbara many years ago. The other silhouette is from stationery Barbara had made for her “official” MPM Manor correspondence … the similarity to Amelia is unmistakable!]