If you are looking for some good escapist literature, something a little frothy and very fun, I can heartily recommend to you Elizabeth Peters. It's a testament to her storytelling abilities, keeping in mind how much I have been struggling with finishing books in a reasonable manner this year, that I finished Legend In Green Velvet in well under a few weeks since choosing it from my TBR pile. It has taken me a while to write about it, and on that front I have lots of catching up to do. It was definitely a wise (though difficult if you look at the other contenders) choice and perfect summertime reading. Perhaps, though, frothy is an unfair word as that makes it sound as though the story is without much substance, and that is not the case at all.
Elizabeth Peters is a pseudonym for Barbara Mertz who sadly passed away a few years ago. She has left behind, however, quite a catalog of books she wrote under various names, including the very delightful (and I must get back to them) mysteries set in Victorian England and Egypt starring Amelia Peabody. I say starring as Amelia is a wonderful character and she 'owns' those stories, if you know what I mean. Her personality utterly shines through on each page. Peters was not just a very prolific author, she also was an Egyptologist and was obviously well versed in the times and places in which she set her novels.
Legend in Green Velvet might be a fun and entertaining read, but Peters was no slouch when it came to doing research. The novel is set in Scotland, ca. 1976 (the year the book was published) and the story's heroine, Susan, can rattle off to you (I can hear Peters sharing her knowledge here) just about anything you would like to know about Scottish history. Susan is smart and independent but a romantic, too, and has something of a crush on Bonnie Prince Charlie. As a matter of fact her devotion to all things Scottish will first get her into trouble and then aid her in getting out of it as well.
"Shadows of the historic dead had companioned Susan's childhood, not replacing normal friendships, but adding a rich and secret dimension to life. It had to be secret; the other kids would have laughed at her if they had suspected the extent to her preoccupation with the past, and Susan couldn't risk that, for mockery would have destroyed the fragile ghosts. She ran and swam and rode her bike as energetically as her friends, but her daydreams were peopled with shadowy warriors and princes."
Susan, an American college student, has come to Edinburgh on her way to an archaeological dig where she will spend the summer. With a day or two to spend at her leisure before starting off on her journey north, she of course plans on soaking up as much Scottish history as she can. But in that day she is accosted by an elderly Scot who thrusts a piece of paper in her hand--a note with the most extraordinary verse in old-fashioned writing. It seems nonsensical until she later finds the same man murdered in his home. By then she has been hit upon by a tall, dark and handsome stranger, had her hotel room ransacked and been questioned by the local police (who think she must be crazy since she seems to be missing only that scrap of paper), been in a chase resulting in her slipping on the stone steps and grazing her knees and then 'befriended' (hmm, is that the right word . . . ) by a rather scruffy young Scotsman with overly long hair and wearing a kilt.
There is a reason for the hair which the reader will understand later in the story, and the kilt is a costume for a party James is on his way to--when he literally runs into Susan. It's all a whirlwind from then on. He escorts her to his family party where his aunt cleans up her scrapes but their run in with the body of Auld Tammas (our man with the note) puts them in a precariously dangerous situation as they try and avoid not only the clutches of the police but also that of the ridiculously handsome man whose nastiness matches his good looks in equal measure.
You can call this a story of romantic suspense quite similar to Mary Stewart or Susanna Kearsley, though the Peters will be a bit heavier on cultural and historical references. It was written in the 70s and there are overtones of the times in the language she uses and the dialogue between characters, but somehow this all feels part of the fun and charm of the story. It did elicit a chuckle to hear (though thankfully not by our hero) Susan referred to as a 'chick'. How very 1970s. There is lots of suspense, plenty of history and a nice dash of romance. It's quite a fun romp actually and a reminder of how much I have enjoyed Elizabeth Peters' writing. I look forward to revisiting Amelia Peabody but also will keep in mind more of her other standalone novels when in need of something smartly entertaining.