Best-selling author Barbara Mertz died this past Thursday. She was 85.
If you don't know her by that name, you likely know one of her pseudonyms. As Barbara Michaels, she wrote 29 suspense novels. That alone would have marked a successful career.
But she also wrote another 35 novels, most with a much lighter tone, as Elizabeth Peters. Those were her stories that I primarily read – and re-read. First her freestanding novels, then her series featuring plucky heroines Jacqueline Kirby, Vicki Bliss, and Amelia Peabody Emerson – especially the Amelia stories.
Whether I was in the mood to read them as straight, tongue-in-cheek, or over-the-top farces, they never failed to entertain – and also inform me about archaeology.
That's where she began, earning her doctorate in Egyptology at age 23. And that was the topic for Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt and Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs: A Popular History of Ancient Egypt, the books she wrote under her own name.
By whatever name, her books never failed to keep people turning pages.
A few years ago at a writers conference, I encountered in the lobby a group of conferees in their teens talking about the Peters book one was reading. Old enough to be their father, I joined in the discussion about the merits of each of her series.
My favorite? Night Train to Memphis, a 1995 Vicki Bliss story, set in contemporary Egypt and filled with adventure and overflowing with humor, much of it involving a German professor's love for traditional American country music.
Which of the many titles by Barbara Mertz / Elizabeth Peters / Barbara Michaels have you enjoyed most?