Barbara Mertz, a writer who wrote mysteries and other novels under two pen names, has died at the age of 85.
Mertz is perhaps best known for her Amelia Peabody mystery series, which she wrote using the name of Elizabeth Peters and which followed Amelia as she engaged in archaeological pursuits during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Under the name Elizabeth Peters, Mertz also wrote the Vicky Bliss series, which centered on an art professor who gets mixed up in crime, and the Jacqueline Kirby series, which follows a librarian who enjoys solving mysteries. Mertz also published several novels under the name Elizabeth Peters and wrote more than 20 books under the name Barbara Michaels, including the Georgetown trilogy.
The author said she was positively influenced by her heroine Amelia, a woman who was legendarily stubborn.
“I was mealy mouthed, timid, never spoke up, let people push me around,” Mertz told the Associated Press. Writing about Amelia made the author become more like her.
The author attended the University of Chicago and received a Ph.D in Egyptology from the Oriental Institute there in 1952. However, she was discouraged from securing a job in her field at that time. “In the post-World-War II backlash against working women, females weren't encouraged to enter that or any other job market,” she wrote on her website. “I recall overhearing one of my professors say to another, 'At least we don't have to worry about finding a job for her. She'll get married.’”
Mertz did marry and began writing after her children were born. She released two nonfiction books, “Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs” and “Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt,” before her first novel, “The Master of Blacktower,” came out in 1966. When she decided to strike out in another genre, her publisher urged her to select a different pen name.
"There's always the notion people are going to use the nasty word prolific about you,” the author told the AP.
Mertz received the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster award in 1998 and served as the president of the American Crime Writers League. She received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Malice Domestic Convention, a gathering of mystery novel fans, and one of the awards there is named after her protagonist Amelia Peabody. Her last book, “A River in the Sky,” was part of the Amelia Peabody series and released in 2010.
“The craft of writing delights me,” Mertz wrote on her website. “It is impossible to attain perfection; there is always something more to be learned – figuring out new techniques of plotting or characterization, struggling with recalcitrant sentences until I force them to approximate my meaning. And nothing is ever wasted. Everything one sees and hears, everything one learns, can be used.”