I am apparently the last person to know this, but on August 8th, Barbara Mertz died at the age of 86.
She wrote under her own name but the name I knew her best was Elizabeth Peters, author of the Amelia Peabody book series. I was introduced to her about ten years after the first book, Crocodile on the Sandbank (1975) was published. It says a lot about how popular her stories were that a decade after publication, the book was still available in paperback.
I think my mother found the story, as she was a mystery buff, and thought I would like it because of the Egyptology in the mix. Neither of us really considered it a romance story, although we both liked Amelia’s unique relationship with Emerson. We also really identified with the bossy, intelligent, and unique beauty of Amelia herself. I did not learn until years later that the whole series is, at heart, a Mary Sue epic — and when I did, I loved it even more. In fact I admired Mertz for having the brass ovaries to base a character so thoroughly on herself.
Mertz is one of my authorial heroes, along with CJ Cherryh and Andre Norton and James White. These are writers who never even pretended to be in it for literary greatness. All they ever wanted to do was tell a fun story that readers would buy and enjoy.
Elizabeth Peters’ books are my old faithful standbys, the books I go reread when I need something that isn’t too deep but deeply engaging. It’s funny because I’m not much of a reader of the mystery or suspense genres, which is where on the spectrum of genres Mertz’s writings are categorized, but I know I can pick up one of her books and thoroughly enjoy it.
I’m glad she had such a long, professionally and personally fulfilling life. I’ll miss her, though. I’m grateful I discovered her work, because her career has always been an inspiration to me (even when I didn’t want to admit it!).
Good bye, Ms. Mertz. You did a hell of a job while you were here!