06 October 2012


Locus Focus: Take Seventy-Nine!

Welcome to the Burial Grounds Challenge!

One reason I've been so confident about the Burial Grounds theme is that I had my first setting all picked out. And then, of course, I reread the book and realised it wouldn't actually do--which put me right back at Square One. (That's a recurring refrain of this meme, actually. Have you ever been able to tell? LOL!)

The good news was that I had a back up. Sort of . . . =P

A Tomb
Crocodile on the Sandbank
by Elizabeth Peters

I had been in a number of ancient tombs, but all had been cleared for visitors. I was somewhat surprised to find that this one was almost as clear . . . There was a good deal of loose rubble underfoot, and at one point we had to cross a deep pit, which had been dug to discourage tomb robbers. The villagers had bridged it with a flimsy-looking plank. Other than that, the going was not at all bad.

Walter too was struck by the relative tidiness. He threw a comment over his shoulder.

"The place is too well cleared, Miss Peabody. I suspect it hs been robbed over and over again; we will find nothing of interest here."

Egyptian scholar Walter Radcliffe is not entirely correct. The tomb he is seeing with the curious Amelia Peabody may have been completely cleared of its ancient artefacts by the time he found it--assuming it had any to begin with, as it was more likely the tomb of a peasant than a prince or a priest--but it still has one thing of interest: its mummy.

And the mummy is really all Amelia needs to get a feel of the place as a Burial Ground . . . and to wonder whether the Ancient Egyptian afterlife the dead man once believed in turned out to be as true for him as the Christian afterlife she has always believed in will turn out to be true for her. She senses that the tomb is not just the resting place of one dead individual, but a time capsule of an entire dead civilisation.

And possibly a despoiled time capsule: not so much a Memento Mori as a You Really Can't Take It With You.

But this is not the message we tend to read in Ancient Egypt's ruins. For every living, breathing acquisitor who has reasoned that the departed won't mind if he pries a treasure or two from their cold, dead hands, there has been someone more willing to honour last wishes and lost traditions. In the millennia since the Ancient Egyptians mourned and mummified their dead, we have acknowledged that burial rites are as much for those who do the burying as for those who are buried: that it is as ennobling to the living as it is respectful to the dead for the former to let the latter rest in peace. This is the last Corporal Act of Mercy--and something we seem able to extend not just as individuals to other individuals, but as civilisations to other civilisations.

The mystery in Crocodile on the Sandbank draws on the taboos against disturbing the dead, with villains who are greedy grave robbers and heroes for whom restoring the moral order involves giving not just the living, but also the dead, their due.

If you feel that this Locus Focus post told you nothing about the novel itself, you can try my Reading Diary entry for this first Amelia Peabody novel.

You can also read more Locus Focus posts on the Settings page.

Do you have a setting you'd like to share?
Link it up in the combox and I'll leave you a comment! =)

Image Source: Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters


Shaz said...

Amelia Peabody is my girl. So daring, so brave, so opinionated! Thanks for reminding me that I need to blow the dust of these books.

Enbrethiliel said...


I like her, too. =) I really should get to the second book in the series, so the reminder goes both ways. ;-)