Thursday, August 8, 2013

Memories of Barbara Mertz / Elizabeth Peters, 1927 - 2013

I can't imagine the world of mystery novels existing without the dozens of books written by Barbara Mertz under her pen name, Elizabeth Peters.

Barbara Mertz passed away on Thursday, August 8, 2013, at the age of 85. She brought readers countless hours of joy through her amazing books, plus inspired so many of us to become mystery writers ourselves. I doubt I would have discovered either the joy of reading or tried my hand at writing if it hadn't been for her.

I started with the Vicky Bliss mystery series when I was in high school. American art history professor Vicky Bliss traveled to foreign lands on mysterious and romantic adventures that were fun, incredibly clever, and full of memorable characters and settings. That was the gateway series that led me to the Amelia Peabody Egyptology mysteries set in the late 1800s, and the Jacqueline Kirby (intrepid librarian) series. Not to mention her stand-alone novels... It's no wonder I've devoted a full shelf, two rows deep, to fit her books on my bookshelf.

Shelf devoted to Elizabeth Peters books.

This shelf of Elizabeth Peters books is two rows deep.

In 2012, the Malice Domestic mystery convention honored Barbara with the Amelia Award, a new award created in honor of the Amelia Peabody character she created. She hadn't attended the convention in several years, and I had never previously met her. It was incredibly meaningful to meet her in person and tell her how much her books had meant to me.
 
Barbara Mertz signing books at Malice Domestic 2012.
As I stood in the signing line, I learned that my feelings were far from unique. One woman even burst into tears upon meeting her. I wasn't quite that demonstrative, but I admit I may have babbled. Yet you'd never know it based on the gracious reaction from Barbara Mertz. She congratulated me on Artifact and signed my beloved old copy of Borrower of the Night, the first book in the Vicky Bliss series, that I've held onto for decades.
 
My beaten-up old copy of Borrower of the Night that I've read countless times.

I'm saving this book forever!

Meeting Barbara Mertz at Malice Domestic 2012.


If you've never tried one of her books, here are a few that are good ones to start with:

  • Borrower of the Night (Vicky Bliss Book 1)
  • Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody Book 1)
  • The Murders of Richard III (Jacqueline Kirby)


She will be missed by her family and friends as well as the scores of readers whose lives she brightened. Her marvelous books live on.

18 comments:

  1. I thought of you instantly when I heard... what a lovely post.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Her books are my favourite; l love reading about archaeology because of her. Your writing reminds me of her books.

    Colleen

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, thank you. And we're definitely not alone in having her books as our favorites...

      Delete
  3. Lovely post, Gigi. And you didn't even mention the slightly creepy and yet not unfeminist Gothics (what we'd call paranormal now) that she wrote as Barbara Michaels, starting with Ammie, Come Home. She had a sly wit, and her women characters were feisty and self-reliant. In Crocodile on the Sandbank, do you remember how she had Evelyn, the seduced and abandoned woman Amelia Peabody befriends, admit to Amelia that sex is "splendid"? Or did Amelia say that after she married Emerson? Anyhow, who but Elizabeth Peters would have handled the topic that way?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Liz, I was never as avid a reader of her Barbara Michaels books, but I do have a few favorites among them.

      Oh yes, I love that exchange between Amelia and Evlyn in Crocodile on the Sandbank! It was definitely before she married Emerson; if memory serves, I think it may have been before she'd even *met* him, because up until that point she'd only been kissed by toads after her money but she'd always suspected there was something more.

      Delete
  4. I too instantly thought of you when I heard the news. I'm so glad you had a chance to meet her at Malice.

    And what a lovely tribute. Fortunately I believe in heaven so she's able to know how much she meant to you and the other writers tonight.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for the note, Janet :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. I loved her Amelia Peabody books--such a delightful, entertaining voice, unlike any other voice in literature. What fun it was to see her family grow! I remember, too, her announcing to the world that she hadn't died, though someone had sighted an announcement of her death. Such a talented, brilliant woman with a delightful sense of humor. Gigi, I wish I'd met her, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know, Marilyn, nobody had a voice like hers! It was nice to learn that she was as lovely in person as I'd hoped.

      Delete
  7. Ever since I was introduced to the series, Amelia has always my go-to whenever I'm depressed. Somehow I've always assumed that Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Mertz was just like her: full of enthusiasm and compassion and larger than life. I'm sorry to hear of her death, but I'm sure she'll live on in the souls of countless readers.

    Thank you, Gigi, for a lovely tribute.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nancy, I completely agree -- her books are definitely comfort reads!

      Delete
  8. I love the Peabody books, but yesterday I re-read Smoke and Mirrors, a Barbara Michaels book, and I have to say I think the character of the woman running for senator has to be an alter ego of Mertz's. I think her early books are pretty dreadful, but it's encouraging to think that she could develop so well from her first attempts--and it's heartening to think that those early efforts went somewhere so good and so successful. All of us who write can look at her career and be inspired.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hadn't previously looked to see the order in which her books appeared, aside from following each Elizabeth Peters series chronologically. But you're right, the books as Barbara Michaels came first! That's a good lesson that someone who created Vicky Bliss and Amelia Peabody learned her craft just like the rest of us.

      Delete
  9. Lovely post, Gigi. I'm sure knowing where you are in your career, she would be happy to have inspired such an ardent fan.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so glad she made it to Malice in 2012 so she could feel the love of hundreds of readers whose lives she brightened.

      Delete
  10. Hi, I had the opportunity to meet Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Mertz at a Malice Domestic back in the '90s and was in awe as well. She is one of my favorite authors; I love "Witch" almost as well as Crocodile on the Sandbank. For whatever reason, I just found that she died. I can't believe how out of the loop I am, and I am so sorry that she is gone. Vicki Bliss, Jacqueline Kirby, Amelia Peabody as well as her one off characters will be missed as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so glad you got to meet her, too. Her books have meant so much to so many of us. I reread several of my favorite books of hers time and time again...

      Delete