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Painted Queen, the weekend (Nefertiti Boot Camp)

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VERSION I:  THE OMNISCIENT NARRATORS’ STORY  (really)

Joan Hess was asked if she would finish The Painted Queen shortly after Barbara Mertz’s death.  At first she was uncertain about whether she would take on that very daunting task (exact quote, “Hell no.”)  Within several months, she was invited back to Barbara’s celebrated home (The Manor) along with highly respected Egyptologist (and another dear friend of Barbara’s) Salima Ikram.  Piles and piles of notes and drafts for PQ were still at the house.  The weekend trip was designed to allay Joan’s fears that taking on a book with so much Egyptology in it would be just too much.  The plan was that Salima, with background encouragement from Barbara’s daughter Beth, would demonstrate her palpable support for Joan, and give everyone a basic introduction to the relevant Egyptology and its many pitfalls.

The three women found many folders of notes and research done by Barbara in preparation for writing PQ, along with multiple versions of the initial chapters.  Over the course of the weekend, the small team examined each folder carefully, discussing how things would fit together.  While there was a lot of material, this didn’t necessarily make things easier — everything was jumbled in a way that made sense to Barbara but not necessarily to anyone else.  The three also shared discussions that they had been having with Barbara while she was plotting and writing the book.  When Joan initially gazed on Barbara’s bust of Nefertiti, covered with a black Victorian lace headscarf, she turned pale and said, “Take that away.”

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But who could resist my charms?

Local Frederick friends of Barbara’s dropped in bearing food and especially drink to support the endeavor.  Everyone plied Joan with inducements, including one of her big favorites — carrot cake.  (Carrot cake, she pointed out, counts as a full meal because it includes all 4 main food groups — fruit (raisins), vegetables (carrots), protein/dairy (egg/milk/nuts) and carbs.)  Cocktails were made.  And consumed.

By the end of the weekend, Joan was able to face Nefertiti (both with and without the scarf), fortified by much carrot cake (and, did we mention especially ‘drink’?).  She was heartened when they found the final paragraphs of the book, handwritten by Barbara, in which the villain was identified and Amelia had the last word, as usual.  (These are are reproduced verbatim in the published book.)

Dressed in borrowed Egyptian robes from Barbara’s amazing vintage and Egyptian clothing collection, Joan joined with Salima and Beth in a celebratory (okay, throwing in the towel) ritual to seal the deal and send Nefertiti (or at least part of her) wandering all over Egypt.

During the tough three years ahead, Joan soldiered through many difficulties to finish the volume, supported by Salima on Egyptology and historical Egypt, and Beth on various sundry research questions.  She also had the help of other experts, friends of Barbara’s who had long given Barbara feedback on the Amelia books — Dr. Ray Johnson and Dennis Forbes (editor of Kmt).   We will not speculate on whether all this help was fortified by the occasional sip of some sort of genial beverage.  But certainly she completed the task with style.

Today we celebrate Joan Hess, friend and mystery writer extraordinaire, and also Barbara Mertz — aka Elizabeth Peters — as we join Amelia and company on one last adventure.

Version II:  Joan Hess’s Story

If I recall, the sky was a curious shade of yellow as I departed the train station next to BWI.  I knew I was doomed as I climbed into the car with Beth and Salima — they were masters of manipulation and I was an easy target.  Indeed, upon arrival at Mertz Manor, I was plied with vodka & tonic (with a splash of lime juice).  “Finishing the book will be a piece of cake,” Beth cooed as she slid a piece of carrot cake across the kitchen table.  My protests were dismissed.  Beth had gathered all of Barbara’s manuscript pages, most of which had scrawled notes in the margins.  The notes were very challenging to decipher and not always illuminating.  We read aloud what we could and searched for ways to rearrange the scenes for clarity.  Although I’m certain that Barbara had devised the entire plot, she did not share the convolutions — with the exception of the final scene.  Salima was able to answer my dumb questions about Egypt and Beth supplied insights into Amelia and Emerson.

By the end of the weekend, we had come up with some ideas where the story might go.  I felt I was out on a limb that had been patched with duct tape by my dear friends.  Or masking tape.  Thank goodness for vodka and carrot cake.

 

Alisha Trenalone Gives Us the Scoop on Painted Queen!

The Painted Queen (Amelia Peabody, #20)
by Elizabeth Peters, Joan Hess

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Alisha Trenalone‘s review

May 15, 2017
It was amazing
Read from May 10 to 15, 2017

 

I have been eagerly awaiting the final installment of the Amelia Peabody series ever since I heard that the late author Elizabeth Peters had one final book in the works. Thanks to the gracious folks who responded to my request at William Morrow/Harper Collins Publishers, I was able to get my hands on this advance reader’s edition, and you may be sure that I devoured it!

For those who may be coming to this book with no prior knowledge of the series, even though this book is #20, it fits chronologically about two-thirds of the way into the series and fills in a gap between previously published books. The Painted Queen will certainly be most meaningful to you if you have read the books that precede it, but I think it would stand up even if you came to it without that context.

That being said, here are my thoughts:

This is a stellar addition to the Amelia series. On page one, I admitted to myself some reservations. Joan Hess is the co-author for this work; I wondered, how would the collaboration flow? Would I really recognize my favorite characters? Would I be able to suspend disbelief and go along on their adventures with the same thrill I’ve gotten in many of Elizabeth Peters’ other works?

I realized by about page seven that the answer to all of those questions was YES! In fact, this book may actually mark the series’ peak of comedy, derring-do, and suspense. It’s very, very funny, and the action is tightly plotted without any slow bits.

I love the premise, which is absurd and therefore sits fair and square in Amelia’s world. Without any apology whatsoever, she OWNS the fact that her life is straight out of the most sensational of novels. She and her family of archaeologists are just beginning their latest venture in Egypt when a villain with a monocle bursts into her bath chamber, gasps “Murder!” and collapses in a dead heap on the floor moments before he would have strangled her. Naturally, she hoists herself out of the tub and begins going through his pockets. When she and her husband Emerson begin speculating about the presence of the monocle, she immediately informs him that it must be the insignia of a secret society, and that assassins sometimes travel in gangs.
“Assassins do not travel in gangs,” says Emerson.
(They are the perfect duo!)
This is the point at which I began to dissolve into fits of chuckling.

And that is just the beginning of an adventure that involves a whole parade of monocled men named after the great traitors of history. Also, you know the iconic treasure sitting in a museum in Berlin, the Nefertiti bust? The Emerson family is seamlessly inserted into that historical narrative. (I love the way Elizabeth Peters has always had them at or near the scene of great discoveries, but always in such a way that real history is left intact…they get their hands all over the story, but in the end they leave no trace!)
So, yes, the Nefertiti bust has been discovered, but then it vanishes, but then it reappears again…and again…and again…how many of them can there be? Amelia’s son Ramses and his best friend David traverse Cairo hunting down each new copy.
This keeps Ramses mostly away from Nefret, the Emerson family’s ward, now a grown woman with a tragedy in her past. Readers of The Falcon at the Portal and He Shall Thunder in the Sky know that since this new book is filling in that chronological gap, the relationship tension must be kept intact. It simmers ever so slightly below the surface.

I must mention one other big thing that I adored in this book….the appearances of the Emerson family’s perpetual nemesis (actually, at this point, “frenemy” is probably a more accurate description). Yes, it’s Sethos, or as Amelia likes to call him, the Master Criminal. His disguises and plots are ongoing joys of the series. When he shows up in The Painted Queen, it’s with greater panache than ever before. There are thundering hooves. There are dramatic interventions. It’s glorious. Those who know the rest of his story will revel in these moments.

So, in review, this book is everything I wanted the last Amelia Peabody novel to be. I’m sad that there won’t be any more of her adventures, but I’m happy that The Painted Queen is such a fitting swan song. I am totally elated to have read it, and you will be too. It goes on sale July 25!

***SO MANY THANKS to William Morrow/Harper Collins Publishers who provided me with this free advance copy in exchange for an honest review

Brent Butler’s Vine Review!

Thanks to Brent Butler for sending us his much appreciated (56/56!) review of Painted Queen!!!   Amelia’s Dear Readers rock on!
PS — A number of comments were just approved on the MPM official webpage after a blockade (caused by spamming)… they express much enthusiasm about Barbara Rosenblat’s role as official reader for our final Amelia volume….
Here’s Brent’s review:
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Elizabeth Peters in Egypt
56 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read “last of the series”, April 19, 2017
This review is from: The Painted Queen: An Amelia Peabody Novel of Suspense (Amelia Peabody Series) (Hardcover)
All Elizabeth Peters (Barbara Mertz) fans know that this was the Peabody mystery she had started, but not completed, when she passed away almost four years ago. A longtime friend and associate (Joan Hess) courageously took on the job of completing this work to give Amelia Peabody (et al) fans one last shot at the characters they’ve come to feel close to over the course of the last few decades.

Why do I call this courageous? Because Peters’ style had a rather unique quality, with braggadocio mixed with a deprecating humor in a way that just worked, and was quite unlike anything I’d personally read before. I didn’t think the style would be impossible for another writer to spread in to, but I considered that it could be very challenging.

A second aspect is that, for me at least, the underlying plots of the murder mysteries became secondary to the sense of family and the development of characters like Ramses and Nefret. The adventure of solving the crimes was at times part of the character development, and at times something I wanted to have done so that I’d find out what would happen in their personal stories. So yes, I got hooked into the soap opera element of the continuing series — hungry for the next news of Ramses and Nefret’s romance — anxious for the next contact with Sethos and what it would mean — wondering if Emerson’s brother and sister-in-law would ever come back in for a major contribution.

Why do I mention all this before I discuss “The Painted Queen”? Because the manner in which the character development and humor are presented are, to me, the hinge upon which the success of this novel rests as an integral entry in the Amelia Peabody series.

The result, I’ll report, is a bit mixed, but it weighs in much more on the positive side of the ledger. I find the characterizations to be true, and the elements of the plot live up to the series as written by Peters. Amelia’s “journals” provide the essence of her entertaining personality, if not always presented with the subtlety of Peters’ style.

“The Painted Queen” covers a “lost year” in the series, and one that came in the middle of a most important sequence of character development. It is set after “The Falcon at the Portal”, where Nefret marries someone other than Ramses in a mistaken rage at Ramses — and “He Shall Thunder in the Sky”, where Ramses and Nefret have a very rocky road to reconciliation. After having Ramses and Nefret present as a happy couple and competent motive force, I’m not sure how you mentally go back to a time before that, but then again Peters intended to fill in many of the missing years, and those include periods of time “pre-Ramses/Nefret”. This was the third book in that goal, after “Guardian of the Horizon” and “A River in the Sky”. Thus far I’ve read the series in publication order, so I have yet to “go back in time” to those books, meaning that “The Painted Queen” is my first experience of these missing years. However, it comes not long after I read the two novels which bookend it, which put me in a good position to evaluate it against the timeline.

Hess seems to get right into action more quickly and with a more rapid pace than I’ve been used to from Peters. Some might think that an improvement. I have come to enjoy the circumlocution which Peters frequently employed with both Amelia and Ramses, so I found delays before and during action to be a charming element of the color of these novels, and therefore the slight difference in Hess’ style was more noticeable for that reason. However, I don’t really consider this a criticism, just a difference, as had to happen in some ways when one author completes the work of another — especially in a series this long with such a well established style.

So while “The Painted Queen” doesn’t serve as a wrap-up to the series, as one might expect of a “last book”, it does give us a last experience with the characters we’ve come to enjoy and feel close to. It is certainly a solid offering. While some passages seem to lack the light touch of Peters, the overall tone is quite familiar and acceptable.

If you’re a fan of the Amelia Peabody series, you certainly won’t want to miss this last tribute to the characters and their marvelous author.

PQ Fan Review: Benjamin Phillips

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Dear Readers —

We are pleased to post the first “dear reader” review on Painted Queen, sent to us via Twitter DM …  thanks Benjamin!

“Returning unexpectedly and wonderfully, a new Amelia Peabody mystery is finally ours to enjoy. We are thrust back into history, into the winding alleys of the Khan el-Khalili, to the terrace at Shepheard’s, and down the Nile to Amarna. In this fond locale, where she and Emerson first fell in love, they fight old foes, fight several new foes, lecture about proper excavation techniques, hold councils of war, make us laugh, and leave us desperate for more stories that may never come. “The Painted Queen” allows Amelia’s beloved Reader to say goodbye, but never adieu, for as long as we have Egypt in our hearts and a whiskey and soda in hand, Amelia will live forever.” –Benjamin Phillips

Painted Queen Announcement!

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We are delighted to announce that HarperCollins has accepted a finished manuscript of The Painted Queen, started by Elizabeth Peters and completed by her dear friend and fellow mystery writer Joan Hess.  The publication date is expected to be July of 2017.  

Stay tuned for more details!

New MPM Manor Webpage Launched

Marking the third anniversary of our favorite author’s passing, MPM Manor unveiled the new official Barbara Mertz webpage on August 8, 2016.  Thank you to all the wonderful readers and fans who are helping her memory and her writings live on!

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Discovery, Books, and Egypt

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Hi all, we are getting some updates on the “Discovery Sale” being held online only, alongside the Gallery Auction at Cooper’s this week.  Items from both events are being displayed simultaneously, although the “Discovery” items are being sold separately (with lower-ticket stuff, it seems).

This is most definitely more Barbara’s than our kind of setting and interest, so we will just highlight the BOOKS!  (Always a shared interest!) and Egyptian things that wound up in “Discovery” — but there are also some other assorted items (all marked as being Barbara’s).

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BOOKS!  … on EgyptSherlock Holmes & other detectives; novels from Edgar Rice Burroughs to a set of Mark Twain (a favorite author of both Barbara’s and her father’s); books on architecture & art, old-fashioned readings (Baroness Orczy, Rafael Sabatini, John Buchan, George MacDonald); books Barbara enjoyed since when she was younger (LM Montgomery, Alcott, Wren); more of the latter with some extra favorites thrown in (like Aiken and Farjeon); a mix of some of the above that adds in Noel Streatfield and E.Nesbit, among others; some L.Frank Baum;  mysteries ….  and, for the “Another Shirt Ruined” crew — H.Rider Haggard, along with “Sons of the Sheik” (really?) and some of her well-worn T.H. White & Elizabeth Goudge.   Within those covers, many feasts.

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Besides books on Egypt, there are Egypt-themed figures and framed prints and toys (fun to look at, for those who share Barbara’s sense of the frivolous).

Oh, and of course, there has to be …. a cat.

The “Writing Den”–Barbara’s Study

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In response to a great suggestion from one of Barbara’s “dear readers,” we’ve been inspired to post a little something about the room where she did her writing, in her beloved “MPM Manor” out in the Maryland countryside.  She bought the old farmhouse from an interior designer, so it had already been decked out and updated in style.  The study area already had a beautifully draped fabric hung from the ceiling; when it came time to replace that, MPM decided to have fun and “go golden.”  Her house contained large collections of all kinds of books — mysteries, science fiction, historical novels, children’s books, classic literature (Jane Austen!), melodramatic old accounts of desert romances, you name it.  In the study she kept a collection of her own books — one copy of each edition, including those in many different languages and the audio book versions.  She also surrounded herself with books and journals pertaining to her central interests — Ancient Egypt, and the histories surrounding the exploration and development of archaeology there ….

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Also bedecking her walls and shelves were many humorous notes and pictures from her writer friends, many of whom shared her often quirky sense of humor.  Take, for example, the “Literary Cupcake” prize that she received from a mysterious group — for some serious accomplishments (tooth-chipping, anyone?):

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It was less than a month before she died when Barbara put down her pen, announcing that she would not be writing any more.  This caught many of us by surprise, much as we’d known the day would have to come.  But despite many attempts to “retire” in previous years, she’d always found herself bored, restless, at sea when she stopped writing – and eventually relented to write (usually) “one more” Amelia.  As it had been since she was a very young woman, writing remained her solace, the goal toward which so many of her days were bent.  Through even the worst of days, it was the imaginative lens through which she loved to think about the world — and the magic that she sought to share with her readers.  What a gift.

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Vanish with the Rose?… Summer in MPM Gardens

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“But the sun was warm on her bare head and she read on, increasingly entranced … by the sheer romance of the old roses.  Surely no other flower had accumulated such a rich and ancient tradition….

Some of them could trace their histories back, not for centuries but for millenia.  The night before she had read of the wreaths found in Egyptian tombs.  Those withered blossoms had been plucked four thousand years ago, but when they were put into warm water the buds opened rose-pink petals.  Someone had even identified the variety: Rosa richardii, called “the Rose of the Tombs” or the “Holy Rose of Abyssinia” because it had flourished in the Christian cemeteries of Ethiopia for countless ages. … The Persian musk rose, cultivated for its perfume, had arrived in England in 1513; Shakespeare mentioned it in A MIdsummer Night’s Dream, and it was a favorite scent of Elizabethan dandies — because, one authority had suggested, it was reminiscent of the smell of the rutting musk stag.  One could well believe that, knowing the Elizabethans….”  Vanish with the Rose (Barbara Michaels)

Hmmm….. hadn’t really thought of rutting musk stags and roses together before!  We thought we’d send along some pictures of the MPM Gardens in summer, before everything “vanishes with the roses”….

Barbara didn’t seem able to do anything half-way.  Her files are full of research for each book, and often the detailed background research led to hobbies into which she threw herself with accustomed passion.  In Vanish with the Rose we hear hints of the avid gardener she became (always with stalwart help). And here are some glimpses of the results….

(and these really are “Summer” in MPM Gardens: photos by Summer Kelley Photography!)

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