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June, 1998

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Welcome, once again. Do you ever get stuck on a reading kick with one author? That’s what happened to me last month. I re-read a book by Elizabeth Peters and ended up reading a whole clutch more by the same author. Then there were two lots of proofs for my own new book, “Translations in Celadon”. These had to be read and corrected, but I still found time for some non-fiction from various sources. Here goes ...


Australian book, (A)
US/Canadian book (US) or (C)
British book (B).
Other book - (O) .

YA = Young Adult. C = Children’s NF = Non Fiction.
F = Fantasy N = Novel M = Mainstream R = Romance
CR = Crime. T = Thriller. H = Historical.

The Seventh Sinner, by Elizabeth Peters. (US/B). M/T/CR The Murders of Richard the Third, by Elizabeth Peters (US) M/T/CR Die For Love, by Elizabeth Peters (US) M/T/CR Naked Once More, by Elizabeth Peters (US) M/T/CR Ammie, Come Home, by Barbara Michaels (US) T/F/R Squatters and Settlers, by Derrick I. Stone and Donald S. Garden. (A) NF. Explore Tasmania (A) NF. Character Naming Sourcebook, by Sherrilyn Kenyon with Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet (US) NF. Baby Names for the New Century, by Pamela Samuelson, (US). NF Who’s Who in the Ancient World, Betty Radice, (B) NF. Town Walks (B) NF.
THE SEVENTH SINNER, by Elizabeth Peters, 1972. Published by Severn House.

New York and Surrey, this edition 1991. 206 pp. Borrowed from the library, but I’d have bought it if I’d ever seen it in a shop.

At first I took this to be a fairly recent book by Elizabeth Peters, but the social habits, names and dress of the characters made me look more closely to find the original publication date of 1972. The setting is Rome, where seven students of archaeology and its related subjects gather in coffee shops and the university library for fellowship, study and general entertainment. Jean, the main character, meets the irrepressible middle-aged librarian, Jacqueline Kirby.

Bronze-haired, green-eyed, incurably independent and determinedly uninterested (she claims) in the goings-on of youth, Jacqueline nevertheless finds herself drawn to the self-proclaimed “Seven Sinners”. The group’s most unpopular member has his throat cut in the catacombs, and Jean discovers him just before he dies. He manages to scrawl what appears to be the number 7 in the dust before falling forward and obliterating this clue. The hunt is on for the killer and the motive, and Jean finds herself in danger. Why should the killer wish to silence her when she’s already told what she knows? The answer lies in the interpretation of the clue.

The Roman setting adds greatly to the fun of the story, which, despite the subject matter, is told in the jaunty style that Elizabeth Peters often employs. While this can be occasionally irritating, (in my opinion) it’s saved by the sense that the author is having fun with the genre. Jacqueline makes an unusual and intelligent detective, who is aware of all the clichés and often refers to them. The answer to the mystery is a masterpiece of esoteric reasoning, hinging on a case of academic theft. Peters uses a similar motive for murder in another title, “Search the Shadows”, which was published under her other pseudonym, “Barbara Michaels”.

We meet Jacqueline Kirby again in the second book of the series, reviewed below.

THE MURDERS OF RICHARD III, by Elizabeth Peters. First published in 1974. This edition by Judy Piatkus Publishers, London, 1989. 230pp.

Borrowed from the library but again, I would buy it if I ever located a copy.

Jacqueline Kirby appears again, still a librarian, but this time holidaying in Britain. An old admirer, working in Britain, takes her along to a country house weekend where a group of ardent Ricardians, (a society dedicated to proving the innocence of Richard III) gathers for a conference which is to culminate in the unveiling of the letter supposed to prove the matter once and for all.

The novel is a classic house-party mystery, with a number of nasty tricks which seem to represent the murders supposedly carried out by the maligned monarch. There are clues and red herrings and stock characters, the doctor, the vicar, the precocious child. Again, Peters uses every cliché, but the engaging thing is that she not only admits this but sends up the whole genre through Jacqueline’s musings. Literary allusions abound, from Agatha Christie to Josephine Tey to Shakespeare and Gilbert and Sullivan. Disguises, costumes, set pieces and some solid historical research keep the pace moving smartly.

Peters holds a Ph.D in Egyptology, and although the story has nothing to do with archaeology this time, there is a hint of her interest in the matter of the letter which may or may not be authenticated.

The problem with taking on well-known real-life mysteries, I believe, is that the author sets him/herself up for a fall. No real evidence can be admitted, because ultimately, unless a novel is set in our future, the status quo has to be maintained. Peters has a habit of tilting at these windmills, though. In various titles she tackles the lost treasure of Troy, the discovery of Camelot, the finding of Queen Nefertiti’s tomb.

DIE FOR LOVE, by Elizabeth Peters, 274 pp. Published in 1984. This edition Souvenir Press, 1985. A library book. etc as aforesaid.

Jacqueline Kirby makes a new appearance, still middle-aged, still attractive, still attracting unwanted (or so she firmly believes) confidences from her friends and acquaintances. This time two men vie for her attention.

In some ways, Jacqueline reminds me of an older, contemporary version of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher; a man (at least) in every book! However, Peters is G-rated while Greenwood verges on MA.

Still a librarian, Jacqueline seeks a tax deduction by attending a historical romance writers’ conference. her reasoning is simple; books are part of her job, and she might write something other than a text book one day!

The historical romance genre is sent up with cutting vigour, and the notion of pseudonyms, ghost-writers, false fronts and rapacious agents and fans pushed to the absolute hilt. It always intrigues me when a writer writes about writers and writing. Will s/he play it straight or indulge the readers by pandering to popular conceptions and misconceptions of the occupation? Peters, of course, does a bit of both.

The conference setting is way over the top and the murder of a vitriolic columnist sends Jacqueline off on a new detecting spree. Who killed Dubretta and why? The denouement, announced by Jacqueline in a typical set-piece with most of the suspects present, is pretty complicated and I doubt if anyone could hope to beat Jacqueline to the answer. Again, under the general over-the-top atmosphere I get the sense of an intelligent writer having fun with her readers, and giving them credit for enough intelligence to have fun as well.

NAKED ONCE MORE, by Elizabeth Peters. Published by Warner Books, 1989. 296 pp. This copy from the library but, etc as aforesaid.

Jacqueline Kirby, who had begun to write her first historical “bodice ripper” at the end of the previous book, is now a full-time writer. She has produced two best-sellers and is on the short-list of authors being considered to pull off the writing coup of the decade; the sequel to Naked in the Ice, a multi-million dollar best seller by deceased writer Kathleen Darcy.

Jacqueline wins the contract, of course, and heads for Kathleen’s backwoods village to research the writer’s notes and background and to produce an outline which must be approved by Darcy’s heirs. Along the way, Jacqueline begins to suspect that Darcy’s suicide was staged, and she stirs up a proper wasps’ nest of potential killers. Mixed with the investigation are more men who fancy Jacqueline, and quite a few facts about writing and plotting.

As far as I know, these four titles are the only ones (so far) to star Jacqueline Kirby. She remains perennially middle-aged, bronze-haired and formidably attractive. Her grown children are referred to occasionally but never appear on-stage, her ex-husband is a total mystery to the reader and to all of Jacqueline’s friends. She’s a maddening know-all, but I guess I’m mildly hooked; if she appears in another book I’ll be first in line. Four books in seventeen years; and the books get longer and more complex as they go along. For anyone interested, Peters has two other long-running series heroines. Vicky Bliss, a blonde art historian who works in Munich, pops up in at least four titles, and Amelia Peabody Emerson, a Victorian archaeologist, in many more. There are occasional cross-over characters; John, Vicky’s on-again, off-again boyfriend/thief has a role in an otherwise unrelated book called The Camelot Caper.

Information on Elizabeth Peters and her books can be found at the following Internet sites; http://www.eaglenet.com/amelia/ http://www.autopen.com/elizabeth.peters.shtml#anchor1172485

AMMIE, COME HOME, by Barbara Michaels, Published 1968, this edition Universal Tandem, 1971. 221 pp.

This is a scruffy paperback I picked up second hand. Barbara Michaels is author Elizabeth Peters under another name (her real name is Barbara Mertz). As Peters, she writes amusing mysteries, as Michaels she produces supernatural thrillers. If given a choice, I’d take Michaels. The style is slightly less playful and knowing, and I don’t get irritated by her characters.

Ammie, Come Home, is a well-managed story of possession. The setting is a house in Georgetown, Washington, and the back story has its roots in the civil war. Forty-something widow Ruth Bennet is pleased when her niece, Sara, comes to live with her while completing a college degree. Sara comes complete with an apparently effete follower named Bruce. Then one of Sara’s professors, a fiftyish Irish American anthropologist named Pat McDougal, appears on the scene. Pat is eccentric, roughly-spoken and inclined to vanish in the wilds of Africa for months at a time. Ruth is rather bewildered when he begins to court her, and her mixed feelings become more mixed when the normally healthy and forthright Sara begins to act oddly.

A seance or so later, and Pat and Bruce are involved as well. Pat believes Sara is suffering from a mental disorder, Bruce inclines to the theory of possession, or shadowing. Ruth doesn’t know what to think. The mystery deepens and it becomes evident that the triangle of a young woman and two men has been played out in this house before. Only Ruth has no “alternative role”.

The plot is well constructed and the characters likeable. The late 1960s setting and attitudes seem almost historical now, but I believe the book is still in print. I like it a lot, and it has two related titles - “Shattered Silk” (about Sara’s sister) and “Stitches in Time”.

SQUATTERS AND SETTLERS, by Derrick I. Stone and Donald S. Garden. 224 pp.

Published by Reed Books, 1978, this edition 1984. I bought my copy from the local Cash Converters.

Plenty of text and black and white photographs make this one a handy reference book for writers, amateur historians costume designers or anyone interested in the social history of Australia. There are eleven chapters, beginning with “The First Settlers”, proceeding through “Pioneering Days” and “From Boom to Almost Bust” to “Into the Twentieth Century”. Houses, clothes, machinery, camels, horses, sheep, fences, dogs - it’s all here, the story of rural Australia in pictures.

I don’t know if there’s a new edition of this title available; if so, it’s well worth searching out.

EXPLORE TASMANIA, Published by Penguin Books, 1997. 77pp, RRP. $14.95. This is a review copy.

Lots of coloured photographs, maps, lists of events and special-interest features combine to make this a welcome addition to any collection of tourist guides. It includes climate guides, map references and sensible advice on wild-life watching.

The towns are listed in alphabetical order, from Beaconsfield to Zeehan, and each listing comes complete with the main facts and attractions as well as the population counts.

Another section deals with 4WD Tours around Tasmania, giving distances and approximate times. There are road maps in the back.

Explore Tasmania is a large format paperback, and it won’t fit in your glove box, but that’s the only real drawback to a well-produced quick-reference and guide.

Check out this web site for more information on Explore Australia publications. www.exploreaustralia.com

CHARACTER NAMING SOURCEBOOK, by Sherrilyn Kenyon with Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweet. Published by The Writer’s Digest, Ohio, 1994. 360 pp. My copy was sent by a US friend, as “swaps” for an Australian sci fi title she couldn’t buy locally.

This is a fat and fascinating compendium of names from various sources. Unlike the usual baby-naming book, this one is specially for writers, and includes advice on the appropriate naming of characters. As the author of various articles on this subject, I was interested in what Sherrilyn Kenyon had to say.

Apart from the different types of names and the reasons for choosing them, the main interest in the book lies in the lists of sources. These are listed alphabetically from Anglo-Saxon to Welsh, taking in Arthurian Legend Names, Gaelic, Italian, Russian, Ukrainian and many others. Indian names are listed, but there are no other Asian sources. No Japanese, Chinese, Korean etc. Polynesian and African names are missing also. I suppose you might say the lists comprise names from the sources most-used by Europeans and people of British descent. Native American names get a look-in, however.

Some typical surnames are included at the beginning of each list, and the 20,000 odd entries are listed in an index. This is useful, because some names have more than one source.

The meanings of the names are given, and most of these agree with other naming books. Variations are grouped together. e.g., - under the German (male) listing there is the following entry:
Audric, Audrick, Adalric, Aldrik, Adalrik - noble friend.

My name crops up under Hebrew (female) in the following entry:
Sadie, Sara, Sarah, Sally, Sallie, Sarita - princess.

Eli is given as Greek:
Elek, Eli - defender of man -

and also as Hebrew-
Elias, Elihu, Elijah, Ellis, Eliot, Ely, Eli, Elisha, Eliseo - Jehovah is God.

This cross-referencing and offering of alternative forms and meanings is very useful, not only for writers but for namers of children or even people looking for pseudonyms or other versions of their own names. Bored with Elizabeth? Well - try Elisia. Same name. You could also exchange Jacob for James, John for Jenda or Jonas. Is Gay an embarrassment? Change to Gail or Gayle or, equally legitimately, to Happy.

One thing missing from this book, apart from the sources mentioned above, is a phonetic pronunciation, but it would make a very useful addition to the library.


Published by HarperCollins, New York, 1994. 505 pp. I got this copy from the local Cash Converters.

This is a fat paperback which does include multicultural names. The Asian and African names missing from the title above are here, and so are the phonetic pronunciations. The names are grouped in alphabetical order - female A-Z then male A-Z. At the back is a concept data base; useful if you want a name to denote some trait or purpose. Aeronautics, Bible, Nature, Movies, Science and Theatre are only a few of the categories. There are about 10,000 entries, with variations listed and, in some cases, examples of well-known characters who have borne the name. Thus my name, Sally, has associations with the military (Sally Tompkins, a captain in the Confederate Army), with TV and Film, (Sally Jessy Raphael and Sally Field) and with science, (Sally Ride, astronaut). Most of the examples are American.

The pronunciations are easy to follow. e.g., SAL-ee for Sally, mar-KEY-say for Marquise. A few of them seem a bit odd to me, though. SAH-fron for Saffron? MAH-dess-tee for Modesty? per-ISS for Paris?

I’d have rendered these three as SAFF-ron, MOD-ess-tee and PARR-iss. Maybe the author’s American accent is showing. Or maybe it’s my Australian accent? Another useful addition to the library, but I’d want an Australian and a British book for cross-referencing.

WHO’S WHO IN THE ANCIENT WORLD, By Betty Radice. 334 pp. First published in 1971, revised and published by by Penguin Books, England and USA, 1973.

This edition 1987.

This one is from my personal library. I bought it new, but I can’t remember where.

This is a fascinating reference book, listing a huge variety of ancient characters. Some are mythical, some legendary and some historical. Roman emperors rub shoulders with Greek goddesses, Celtic chieftains and Arcadian nymphs. Concepts, places and quotes, (Symposium, Atlantis, the judgement of Paris) are covered, often with a mixture of scholarship and dry humour. Entries range from a few lines to half a page, and the index is long and exhaustive, covering 72 pp. There are maps of the ancient world in the back, and two sets of black and white plates printed on shiny paper.

On the minus side - the print is rather small and it’s tiresome having to turn to and fro to match the illustrations to the relevant pages of text.

It’s a fascinating book, a great dead-lock buster for arguments and a good reference for characters or concepts mentioned but incompletely described in other sources.

That’s it for this month; I have some juicy review copies to read for next month, plus two Aussie sci-fi titles.

Sally Odgers

Festivale Australian online magazine
copyright © Festivale 1997 All rights reserved
ISSN 1328-8008
Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Box 972G, Melbourne GPO VIC 3001 Australia

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: Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia : copyright © Festivale 1999 All rights reserved
Filed: 13-May-1998

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