A Book Spy Review: ‘The Painted Queen’ by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess


It’s been more than forty years since Elizabeth Peters (a pseudonym used by Barbara Mertz) began writing the Amelia Peabody series. Kicking off in 1975 with Crocodile on the Sandbank, Peters wrote a total of nineteen novels, including 2010’s A River in the Sky

Now, seven years after Peters’ last book, Amelia Peabody returns for one final story–thanks to author Joan Hess, who completed the book started by her lifelong friend, Elizabeth Peters. 

Having traveled from England to Egypt in 1912, intent to start their next excavation season, Amelia Peabody and her husband, Radcliffe Emerson, prepare for one final night of relaxation in Cairo before getting to work the following morning. Slipping into a warm bubble bath, Amelia is suddenly interrupted by a man who mumbles something about murder before collapsing and dying on the bathroom floor. 

Searching the body for any clues as to what the man was talking about before his death, Emerson discovers a piece of paper in the man’s pocket that has the name Judas written on it. A theory emerges that the dead man was nearby to protect Amelia from someone who was there to kill her, but who that might be remains a mystery. 

Later, the couple learns that their son, Ramses, had a similar encounter. After someone tried to kill him, Ramses also found a slip of paper in the dead man’s pocket with the name Judas on it. 

Together, Amelia and Emerson discover that the next target for assassination is Herr Morgenstern, the chief excavator of the Amarna site–which happens to be the main setting in Peters’ first Amelia Peabody novel. As the story charges forward, Amelia finds herself once again at odds with Sethos–a sworn enemy of the Emerson familywho reveals himself in a witty manner

Through it all, Amelia battles assassins, conspiracies, and family issues, hellbent on making it back to where her first adventure began, in Amarna, to help find one of Egypt’s most precious artifacts, the bust of Queen Nefertiti. 

Readers concerned about Amelia having the same voice with another writer stepping in, fear not–this reads like an authentic Peabody novel. Joan Hess nails Amelia’s wit, charm, sarcasm, and everything else readers have come to love about Peters’ iconic character. 

The only negative comes once the novel is done, when the harsh reality that this is the very last of such a brilliant character finally hits home. Fans will be sad to see her go, but Joan Hess gives Amelia Peabody a worthy send-off, and one final heart-stopping adventure for readers to enjoy. 

Amelia’s final adventure proves to be her most eventful yet. Murders, abductions, lost artifacts, spooky tombs, multiple laugh-out-loud moments, and enough suspense to keep your heart rate soaring from beginning to end make The Painted Queen a real treat to read. The delightful Peabody could give Indiana Jones a run for his money, both with her sass and her smarts! 

Book Details

Author: Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess 
Series: Peabody #20
Pages: 352 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0062083511
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: July 25, 2017
Book Spy Rating: 8.0/10
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