The Serpent on the Crown (Amelia Peabody Series #17)

The Serpent on the Crown (Amelia Peabody Series #17)

by Elizabeth Peters

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A priceless relic has been delivered to the Emerson home overlooking the Nile. But more than history surrounds this golden likeness of a forgotten king, for it is said early death will befall anyone who possesses it.

The woman who implores the renowned family of archaeologists and adventurers to accept the cursed statue insists the ill-gotten treasure has already killed her husband. Further, she warns, unless it is returned to the tomb from which it was stolen, more will surely die. With the world finally at peace—and with Egypt's ancient mysteries opened to them once more—Amelia Peabody and her loved ones are plunged into a storm of secrets, treachery, and murder by a widow's strange story and even stranger request. Each step toward the truth reveals a new peril, suggesting this curse is no mere superstition. And the next victim of the small golden king could be any member of the close-knit clan—perhaps even Amelia herself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060759483
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/29/2005
Series: Amelia Peabody Series , #17
Edition description: Large Print
Pages: 560
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.03(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth Peters earned her Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Chicago’s famed Oriental Institute. During her fifty-year career, she wrote more than seventy novels and three nonfiction books on Egypt. She received numerous writing awards and, in 2012, was given the first Amelia Peabody Award, created in her honor. She died in 2013, leaving a partially completed manuscript of The Painted Queen.

Barbara Rosenblat is a multi-award-winning voice actor for audiobooks. On Broadway, she created the role of 'Mrs. Medlock' in 'The Secret Garden'.


A farm in rural Maryland

Date of Birth:

September 29, 1927

Place of Birth:

Canton, Illinois


M.A., Ph.D. in Egyptology, Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1952

Read an Excerpt

The Serpent on the Crown

By Elizabeth Peters

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Elizabeth Peters
All right reserved.

ISBN: 006059179X

Chapter One

He woke from a feverish sleep to see something bending over him. It was a shape of black ice, a tall featureless outline that exuded freezing cold. He tried to move, to cry out. Every muscle was frozen. Cold air touched his face, sucking out breath, warmth, life.

We had gathered for tea on the veranda. It is a commodious apartment, stretching clear across the front of the house, and the screens covering the wide window apertures and outer door do not interfere with the splendid view. Looking out at the brilliant sunlight and golden sand, with the water of the Nile tinted by the sunset, it was hard to believe that elsewhere in the world snow covered the ground and icy winds blew. My state of mind was as benevolent as the gentle breeze. The delightful but exhausting Christmas festivities were over and a new year had begun -- 1922, which, I did not doubt, would bring additional success to our excavations and additional laurels to the brow of my distinguished spouse, the greatest Egyptologist of this or any age.

Affectionately I contemplated his impressive form -- the sapphire-blue eyes and ebon hair, the admirable musculature of chest and arms, half bared by his casual costume. Our son, Ramses, who had acquired that nickname because hehad the coloring of an Egyptian and, in his youth, the dogmatism of a pharaoh, sat comfortably sprawled on the settee, next to his beautiful wife, our adopted daughter, Nefret. Faint cries of protest and distress drifted to our ears from the house the dear little children and their parents occupied; but even Nefret, the most devoted of mothers, paid them no heed. We were well accustomed to the complaints; such sounds always accompanied the efforts of Fatima and her assistants (it took several of them) to wash and change the children. It would be some time before the little dears joined us, and when a carriage drew up in front of the house I could not repress a mild murmur of protest at the disturbance of our peace.

Emerson protested more emphatically. "Damnation! Who the devil is that?"

"Now, Emerson, don't swear," I said, watching a woman descend from the carriage.

Asking Emerson not to use bad language is tantamount to King Canute's ordering the tide not to surge in. His Egyptian sobriquet of "Father of Curses" is well deserved.

"Do you know her?" Emerson demanded.


"Then tell her to go away."

"She appears to be in some distress," Nefret said. Her physician's gaze had noted the uncertain movements and hesitant steps. "Ramses, perhaps you had better see if she requires assistance."

"Assist her back into her carriage," Emerson said loudly.

Ramses looked from his wife to his father to me, his heavy black eyebrows tilting in inquiry. "Use your own judgment," I said, knowing what the result would be. Ramses was too well brought up (by me) to be rude to a woman, and this one appeared determined to proceed. As soon as he reached her she caught hold of his arm with both hands, swayed, and leaned against him. In a breathy, accented voice she said, "You are Dr. Emerson, I believe? I must see you and your parents at once."

Somewhat taken aback by the title, which he had earned but never used, Ramses looked down at the face she had raised in entreaty. I could not make out her features, since she was heavily veiled. The veils were unrelieved black, as was her frock. It fit (in my opinion) rather too tightly to a voluptuously rounded figure. Short of prying her hands off his arm, Ramses had no choice but to lead her to the veranda.

As soon as she was inside she adjusted the black chiffon veils, exposing a countenance whose semblance of youth owed more to art than to nature. Her eyes were framed with kohl and her full lips were skillfully tinted. Catching my eye, she lifted her chin in a practiced gesture that smoothed out the slight sagging of her throat. "I apologize for the intrusion. The matter is of some urgency. My name is Magda Petherick. I am the widow of Pringle Petherick. My life is threatened and only you can save me."

It was certainly the sort of introduction that captured one's attention. I invited Mrs. Petherick to take a chair and offered her a cup of tea. "Take your time," I said, for she was breathing quickly and her face was flushed. She carried a heavy reticule, which she placed at her feet before she accepted the cup from Ramses.

Leaning against the wall, his arms folded, Emerson studied her interestedly. Like myself, he had recognized the name.

"Your husband was Pringle Petherick, the well-known collector?" he inquired. "I believe he passed away recently."

"November of last year," she said. "A date that is engraved on my heart." She pressed her hand over that region of her person and launched, without further preamble, into the description I have already recorded. "He woke that morning from a feverish sleep ...

"This is what killed him," she finished. Reaching into the bag, she withdrew a rectangular box painted with crude Egyptian sym-bols. "He had purchased it only a few weeks earlier, unaware that the curse of the long-dead owner yet clung to it."

A long pause ensued, while we all tried to think of an appropriate response. It had occurred to me, as I feel sure it has occurred to the Reader, that there was a certain literary air about her narrative, but even Emerson was not rude enough to inform a recently bereaved widow that she was either lying or demented ...


Excerpted from The Serpent on the Crown by Elizabeth Peters Copyright © 2006 by Elizabeth Peters. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


A Letter from the Author

Dear Ransom Notes Readers:

I've lost track of the number of times I've traveled to Egypt. The first was back in the l960s; the most recent, last winter. (Never go to Egypt in the summer unless you have to.) I don't believe I will ever tire of it. I share Amelia's love of the view across the Nile toward the West Bank, but for various reasons (including laziness) I don't get up at dawn. Instead, I watch Egypt's glorious sunsets staining the river red as I listen to the blended calls of the muezzins, and, in company with a like-minded friend, sip gin-and-tonic on the balcony of my room at the Winter Palace Hotel.

Though much has changed in Egypt, much remains the same. It's not difficult to put myself back in Amelia's day, and quite often a specific view will inspire a new plot idea. In this book, The Serpent on the Crown, the golden statuette that starts the ball rolling was inspired by two separate ideas -- one, a similar statue of the god Amon, from a much later period; and second, a useful hint from a friend about something Carter found when he opened Tutankhamon's tomb. I can't go into more detail without giving away the entire plot, but I'll bet Egyptology buffs will spot that particular clue.

The discovery of Tutankhamon's tomb in the fall of l922 caused a sensation. It was unique and thrilling. It's fascinating, even to people who know almost nothing more about ancient Egypt. I couldn't resist allowing the Emersons to be present. Emerson would have liked to find the tomb, but since I knew he hadn't, I wasn't able to oblige him.

Since entertainment is my main purpose, the history is all interwoven with lots of hairbreadth escapes, dangerous criminals, frustrated lovers, and, of course, curses. I don't believe in curses any more than Amelia does, but as a writer I love setting up spooky situations and finding logical explanations for them.

The real curse (to use an oxymoron) came after Carter opened King Tutankhamon's tomb. It started with the "mysterious" death of Lord Carnarvon and was built up by energetic journalists and sensation seekers. I'm saving that story for the next book, which I'm working on now. This curse is just a foreshadowing -- a reminder to my readers of the wild superstitions that surround archaeology.

I introduced a new character in Serpent: a lady novelist. Those who are unfamiliar with the popular literature of the period will find her somewhat extravagant, but I assure readers that her prose is typical of her times. Does she remind me of anyone? Maybe just a little. I am not above making fun of myself. Naturally I consider myself a much more talented writer, and I'm sure Amelia would agree.

Elizabeth Peters

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Serpent on the Crown 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 45 reviews.
bookwoman247 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This installment of the Amelia Peabody series brings us back into chronological order. The Emeraons are approached by a wealthy widow who is also a famous novelist. She appeals to them to accept a stunning golden statue which was bequeathed to her by her husband, and which she claims is cursed. She claims to believe that only Emerson can safely keep it, as his talents for escaping all kinds of danger and for excorcising evil spirits are well-known.Soon, the Emersons are thrust into the midst of a series of mysterious events involving dead bodies and black afrits. As they work to unravel the puzzle of who is behind these mysterious occurences, they never flinch from what may be the greatest danger they've ever faced.Of course I loved this! It was one of the most suspenseful in the series.
nolak on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A woman arrives in Cairo and gives Emerson a very expensive Egyptian artifact, asking him to remove the curse from it. The serpent on the artifact is missing, and the source of its find is a great mystery. The family of the woman are a bit of a puzzle as well and there are a number of new faces that seem to appear for odd reasons, causing the Luxor residence to build a guardhouse with a guard. The antics of the grandchildren play favorably in the story with many new relationships being built. Ramses and Emerson stage an exorcism of an afrit in trying to get rid of the curse, but is there a real afrit who has kidnapped the woman who owns the artifact? The family team does it again in ferreting out the many criminals and their motivations, but the fun comes from the finding of the serpent that goes in the crown of the artifact.
reeread on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Even as she grows older, Amelia Peabody Emerson is unstoppable. Being presented with a valuable statuette which supposedly curses whoever is in possession of it, causes Emerson to try to trace its origin and its legal owner. A number of people are vying to buy the statuette, including Cyrus. The previous owner is murdered and this gives Amelia and Emerson ample opportunity to exercise their detective skills, the former ultimately revealing the culprit and the latter the statuette's origin.
Darla on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love this series. I'd been letting the latest books pile up in my TBR pile for a while--kind of like... er, well, actually, it's exactly like hoarding treasure. Now I only have one left to be caught up.In this 17th book in the series, the Emerson clan is back in Egypt after WWI: Emerson, Amelia, Ramses, Nefret, and their twins: David John and Carla.Shortly after their arrival, a famous author of sensational novels arrives with a gold statue. She begs Emerson to take the statue and protect her from the curse she claims killed her husband. She seems genuinely frightened, but they're suspicious that it might just be a publicity stunt. Regardless of the existence of a curse or actual danger to the woman, the statue is genuine, and for the Emersons, the questions of where the statue came from--a lost tomb?!--is far more compelling.Things become complicated, of course, starting with the widow's stepchildren barging into the Emersons' home demanding the return of the statue at gunpoint. There are several sightings of a black-robed "demon," prompting one of Emerson's famous exorcisms; the appearance of Emerson's half-brother Sethos, always suspicious when there's treasure around; kidnapping, disappearances, and murder.As usual, the family adventure is just as important as the mystery--watching Peabody and Emerson growing older and Ramses and Nefret with the twins is like visiting with old friends.Also as usual, the characters are their distinct selves--Amelia's not-completely-reliable narrator is a delight, and the sections from Ramses's point of view demonstrates his character well. But because their characters are so vivid, you really have to like the characters to enjoy the books.
GMac on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Enjoying a busy period of excavation in 1921, the Emersons learn of a mysterious death that has been attributed to a curse, a situation that enables Amelia and her family to enter the banned Valley of the Kings in order to return a stolen statue.
benfulton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very good addition to the Amelia Peabody mysteries. Recent books have covered the adventures of her son Ramses or backed up to cover some of the "missing years" but this one extends the story through 1922 - which, if you know something about Egypt, you might know was the eve of a very important event in Egyptology...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is perhaps the weakest book in a great series, and was probably written by a ghost writer. Rames daughters' name has inexplicably changed from Charla to Carla. The plot is thin and predictable.
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tuggytoot More than 1 year ago
I've read the series 3 times and would read it all again in another year or so
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As always Elizabeth Peters books are always entertaining. I enjoyed it with the exception of Radcliff being a little careless with a valuable item. I would expect a little more caution on his part but thats what contributes to the adventure. It's an easy book to read and enjoy what steps are taken to get the item back.
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