I already posted a review of this on Good Reads, but I’ve continued to think about it so I wanted to post an updated version here.
The Third Post Holds True
I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks lately and it just so happened that this is the third book in a row that is the end of a series. The first two of which I’d really been waiting for excitedly were incredibly disappointing – they were both the weakest book in the series by far. So when I discovered there was a 6th and final volume of the Vicky Bliss series immediately after those two disappointments I was really worried. I loved Vicky Bliss and they had ended in a good place with the best book in that series Night Train to Memphis which was #5. I wanted another Vicky Bliss story, but I’d be heart broken if Peters didn’t stick the landing – but don’t worry she did. Was it as good as Night Train to Memphis? No, sadly it wasn’t, but it was very good.
So as we left John and Vicky after Memphis they were together and happy, unfortunately with Vicky working in Munich and John with a store in London they were always having to fly back and forth which was expensive. John had discovered that being honest is not only a lot of trouble, it’s also not as profitable. Suddenly their friend Feisal shows up with two pieces of news, King Tut’s mummy has been stolen and there is a strong suspicion that John was behind the theft. So John must re-enter the world of crime to clear his name – but can he? He’s keeping something secret from Vicki again.
I realized the last time I re-read Night Train to Memphis that if you hadn’t already read books 2-4 in the series, it wouldn’t be nearly as powerful if you hadn’t already invested in the main characters. That’s even truer about The Laughter of Dead Kings. The characters have almost all been introduced before in the series and it’s only the new ones that get much of an introduction. If we met them before in the series, a phrase pointing out where we met them before is all we get. And we learn more about these returning characters. A couple of characters we thought were all right have turned bad. We also learn one of the skills Schmidt always boasts about was even more impressive in real life than his previous boasts and he had a reason for his boasting.
There are also some things directly out of her other series “Amelia Peabody” and I dropped out of that series once they started to focus on the main characters’ son Ramses who I never liked anyway and I especially wasn’t interested in his love life. I think if I’d kept up through that series I’d got even more references. One of the weapons used in an attempted murder even once belonged to the Emersons.
As usual Vicky eventually figures out what’s going on, but not until the very end getting everyone in trouble along the way. It’s a great story and a great ending. It wasn’t as tightly plotted and had more imperfections than Night Train to Memphis but headed to a most satisfying end.
I read several other reviews and one of the things people pointed out is in the author’s introduction she mentioned that she wasn’t writing the stories as if time was flowing normally. The first book in the Vicky series was from the early 1970s. Memphis was from 1994 and this volume came out in 2008. Peters says she was setting each Vicki story in the year it came out without worrying about things changing in the world or that Vicky should have aged. On my first read through I really thought it would have been better if she hadn’t mentioned this. Really the only change in technology I caught was the wider spread of credit cards and a couple of times when they used cell phones. Leave off the cell phones and I don’t think the world as it was changed much. They also jet all over the place repeatedly, but that seems to be more a feature of not really exploring one place as thoroughly as the storylines normally run (they hop around to Rome, London, Egypt, Berlin). I’ll admit that the constant flying did feel a little like filler. Pointing out the time differences, especially in the introduction and not in an afterward caused more problems than it solved.
However, after thinking about this for a long time I think I figured out why she included that bit expounding about time. As I said she really hadn’t nailed most about the technology of 2008 so I didn’t understand why she wanted to really grind it home how we were in the 21st century now. She wanted to make the connection with her “Amelia Peabody” series more tangible. Having reread Memphis after Laughter, I think she’d really already explained this connection in that book. It’s very subtle though and I think she thought more readers would have picked up on it. So in THIS she really doubles down on it and isn’t subtle at all. That means being more explicit about HOW John’s family and the Emersons were biologically connected. In the 1970s, John would only be Ramses’ grandson – hardly old enough to be distant. In the 2000s, you could probably add 2 or 3 generations which makes a distant relative much more plausable.
There were two other things some reviews complained about, one that was interpreted as a Mary Sue (with its original definition) moment and the other one I won’t mention because I honestly stopped walking the dog and bent over double laughing when it happened so I’ll allow you to discover it on your own. Other people didn’t seem to enjoy unexpected connections as much as I do and were rather grumpy about it in their reviews. These people need a more joyful look at life. I hope you’ll enjoy both these things. I know I did.
I was interested in what I might have missed so I looked up Elizabeth Peter’s own website – which was harder to find than it should have been – and I discovered that Sir John was actually introduced in a book with a different detective called The Camelot Caper. I’ve read it since. I’m afraid I did not really love the detectives in that one and John is definitely not up to his normal form, BUT his mother is there and in full form.
Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , LinkedIn , SlideShare, and Academia.edu . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.