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It may be confusing to sort out the various identities of this marvelous writer. I can assure you, however, that Elizabeth Peters, Barbara Michaels and Barbara Mertz are well worth the effort. My introduction to this writer started with a Peters novel and came about under less than promising circumstances. Namely a book, a friend, and the words, "You have to read this!" This occurrence usually results in me going home with a truckload of books I don't have the time or inclination to read. But this time was different - the book in question was Elizabeth Peters' fifth Jacqueline Kirby mystery, Naked Once More and from the moment I finished it I knew I was hooked.
The pseudonyms are something that most readers of either Michaels or Peters eventually come to discover, usually when they notice the quote from Marion Zimmer Bradley printed on many of her book covers: "Barbara Michaels is a wonderful writer, even if she calls herself Elizabeth Peters." To clarify, this author writes under three distinct names: Michaels, Peters, and Mertz. Her newsletter has dubbed her MPM and she began her writing career as Dr. Barbara Mertz, with a Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. Under this name she has written three non-fiction books. The first two, Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs: A Popular History of Ancient Egypt and Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt are still available if you look hard enough and in fact were reprinted only about six years ago. Ms. Mertz's third book, entitled Two Thousand Years in Rome, is described as a historical guide to Rome. Over the years she has also written several articles on the art of writing for various magazines.
But of course, what this writer is best known for are her novels, and with good reason. Under Michaels and Peters, the two names she uses for her fiction writing, she has written over 50 books, with topics as diverse as American colonial history, vintage clothing, and Schliemann's lost gold of Troy. They have been set everywhere from Egypt to Germany to the American southwest. Each book is so carefully researched that the reader has become something of a mini-expert on the subject matter by the time they finish it.
Barbara Michaels wrote her first book in 1967, and, as she says herself, it was a true blue take-off of the popular gothics of the day. She comments, "The first thing I did was called The Master of Blacktower, which was probably derivative: a nice way of saying that I stole the idea. You'll do me a favour and not look it up." Having enjoyed modest success with her first few books, her agent then informed her she was in imminent danger of being labelled "prolific", something to which he apparently believed no writer should ever aspire. He requested an alternate name for her next book and she promptly came up with Elizabeth Peters, using the names of her two children. The Jackal's Head, her first novel involving Egyptian archeology, was the first to be published under this new name in 1968.
From there things really took off and since 1967, Ms. Mertz has published at least one book a year, and more often than not a book under each of the two names. Her most popular series is undoubtedly that featuring Amelia Peabody, Victorian Egyptologist and self-appointed detective, along with her sexy, imposing husband Radcliffe Emerson and their precocious son Ramses. The latest in this series, The Hippopotamus Pool, was released this spring, and is the eighth in this series. Ms. Mertz has declared her of hopes of following Amelia Peabody's career for as many as twelve books, with plans to bring her through history as far as World War I.
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