A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters
A River in the SkyThe Emerson family usually spends its winters in Egypt. Emerson and his wife Amelia Peabody are archeologists specializing in Egyptian excavations. But Emerson has been banned from the Valley of the Kings this year and doesn’t want to dig somewhere else in the country. They remain at their home in Kent, England, with most of their family. Ramses, their son, is in Palestine working with a dig there. It is 1910 and the Middle East is in turmoil.
Jerusalem is divided into four religious quarters, with all worshiping the Haram ash-Sharif site for its religious importance to all the people in the area. Ramses is a linguistic expert; Hebrew is one language where he is fluent, making him invaluable to a British excavation.
Emerson and Amelia receive a visit from Major George Morley and Reverend Plato Panagopolous. Morley is planning a dig in near the Haram ash-Sharif in hopes of discovering the ancient Ark of the Covenant. After listening to them, Emerson brusquely sends them on their way. Then he is contacted by the English War Department. They’d like for Emerson to go on a similar expedition nearby – to keep an eye on Morley to make sure he doesn’t stir up trouble.
So the Emersons, including their adopted daughter Nefret and Ramses’ closest friend David leave for the Middle East. Rev. Panagopolous shows up badly injured as they are ready to leave. Morley had deserted him. The Emersons take the vague man with them. They send a message for Ramses to meet them at Jaffa.
Ramses stays as long as he can at his current site. There he meets another group that includes a German baroness archeologist. There are rumors that she is a German spy, wanting to help the region shake off the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Before Ramses can leave to meet his family, he is kidnapped by a man in her entourage.
A River in the Sky looks at the Middle East situation a hundred years ago. The Christian Ottoman Empire is eroding, loosening its political grip on the area. Jerusalem and Palestine are the homes are three strong religious groups. The British Empire extends around the world. The Germans are building up to the first World War. Then insert the opinionated, active, nosy Emerson family into the mix. Things are going to be lively for a while.
Overall, A River in the Sky falls a bit flat. Yet the characters are true to themselves as they have been portrayed throughout Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series. I often found myself chuckling aloud at some antic or another. In their chronological story, this book comes after Guardian of the Horizon and before The Falcon at the Portal.
One point is obvious to the reader of A River in the Sky. The current troubles in the Middle East and especially the Palestine region are not new, but thousands of years old. Because the Emersons are archeologists, many of the conversations revolve around the history of the area – both political and religious. Elizabeth Peters has made Emerson a very skeptical man when it comes to myths and religions – trusting only what can be physically proven. Amelia is also rational, but allows the faith of her youth to still be important to her. When some religious zealots are added in, Peters is able to present a rounded view of peoples’ beliefs in the area.
Notice: Non-graphic violence