AMANDA'S back, and she has laid in a new supply of attack parasols. Seems as if there's no rest for Elizabeth Peters's feisty, turn-of-the-century Egyptologist detective, who has a propensity for peril and a predilection for pantaloons.
Just a year ago she and her handsome husband, the unconventional ancient-Egypt scholar Radcliffe Emerson, and their precocious, terrier-willed 10-year-old son, Walter Peabody Emerson (known appropriately as Rameses), were following treasure maps around the Nubian desert in Peters's clever and witty mystery "The Last Camel Died at Noon." Now in the seventh novel in the series, The Snake, the Crocodile and the Dog (Warner Books, 340 pp., $19.95), the couple is back in Egypt, and the mischievous Rameses, fe eling left out back in England, is saving his shillings to join them, and pondering the location of the key to the lion cage at the couple's estate, Amarna House.
Readers familiar with the series know that Amanda is equal to the tasks that befall her. In fact, they will be pleased to see her relieved of the domestic tranquillity of Amarna House. There in the green reaches of Kent, she has begun to lament what she perceives as the mellowing of her 13-year marriage.
When the couple arrives in Egypt, the change of climate warms Amanda's spirit. While reading her recent translation of an ancient Egyptian tale, "The Doomed Prince," which makes the prophecy that the king's son will die from the snake, the crocodile, and the dog, she experiences an intense sense of foreboding. Strangely, after seven novels, Amanda still does not recognize that her forebodings have the force of prediction.
Needless to say - without saying too much - Amanda and Emerson, as he is called, encounter a few troubles along the Nile. Scarcely have they unpacked when they are subjected to kidnappings and assorted assaults. Routine developments for these two, to be sure. But there's a twist that thrusts Amanda to the forefront of an archaeological party fraught with intrigue, where she must regain the love, as well as fight for the life, of her cherished mate. All the while, the Emersons' dastardly adversary, whom t hey have dubbed Master Criminal, lurks in disguise in the midst of their remote campsite. To reveal more of the plot would be to invite invective from the Father of Curses.
As always, Peters (who also writes under the name Barbara Michaels) cradles her melodrama in the exhilarating world of late-19th-century Egyptian archaeology. Peters, who holds a PhD from the University of Chicago in Egyptology, is alert to the archaeological significance of various Egyptian sites as well as the interpersonal machinations of the competitive archaeologist of the period.
When Amanda and Emerson first arrive in Cairo, they socialize with a pack of archaeologists drawn from real life, like Gaston Maspero, the director of antiquities in Egypt, and George A. Reisner, who worked at the Giza pyramids and in the Sudan. Howard Carter, the discoverer of King Tut's tomb, also makes an appearance.
It is, of course, ungenerous to quibble with entertainments of this sort. Still, at times "The Snake, the Crocodile and the Dog" lacks the verve typical of the series. These yarns spin along on the high spirits and lucid repartee of Amanda and Emerson. When that colloquy is interrupted, the pizazz fizzles.