Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Legend in Green Velvet

Legend in Green Velvet / Elizabeth Peters
New York: Fawcett, c1976
238 p.
Elizabeth Peters is the master of romantic adventures, told with a leavening of humour. Because of its historical, dramatic nature, I'd think this novel might have been released under her other authorial name, reserved for all her gothics, Barbara Michaels. But perhaps the humorous touch might have been too much for a Michaels!

It involves all the wonderful things that Peters/Michaels often rolls into her books -- archeology, young women as protagonists, masterful men undercut by sly humour, and clever repartee.

The style and content of this novel remind me of Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda crossed with John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps -- fleeing across the moors, secret conspiracies, strange resemblances, and a touch of romance too. It was very entertaining and a delightfully Scottish read.

The plot begins when Susan, a young American archaeology student, arrives in Scotland for a summer gig. She's volunteering at a dig, but has come a little early to soak in Edinburgh -- she is fascinated with Scotland. That's when it all goes wrong; she gets mistaken for someone else and pulled into the middle of a political conspiracy...or is it? Rescued by Jamie Erskine on the streets of Edinburgh, she's then accompanied by him to her work site, where they finally meet up with her first colleague: 

Susan stumbled across the threshold and felt a hand catch here. A face peered out of the shadows -- a tanned young face topped by bright-red hair.
"Ewen MacGregor" said the face. 

I was amused. 

The story continues with Susan trying to figure out what is actually going on at this dig; not much work seems to getting done. And who is who, and why and how, and what her relationship really is to Jamie, not to mention uncovering his deep dark secrets.

It's a convoluted plot which all makes sense in the end -- Peters is great at throwing more and more into the story (including a subterranean torture chamber here) and yet tying it all up believably. Despite it being very much of its time -- sexism abounds, and the romance turns out to be fairly abrupt and traditional -- the cleverness rescues this one. 

When I want to relax with a fun read I very often to turn to Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels. This book, which I came across in this delightful vintage edition in a used book store, mixed both the Amelia Peabodyish humour of Peters and the gothic elements of Michaels, resulting in a refreshing concoction to enjoy again and again. Scottish history buffs will particularly enjoy this read, but it isn't limited to that market. If you want a fun, madcap story of mistaken identities and romance fated in the stars, try this out. 


  1. I love this book. It's one of my favorite Elizabeth Peters, though not my favorite Barbara Michaels, which probably doesn't make sense to anyone else but me seeing as how they're the same person, but there you go. ;D

    1. Oh that makes perfect sense! I do love the first five books in the Amelia Peabody series, but this one has the same feel in some way so I found it just delightful.

  2. I too was amused by the unexpected encounter with Ewen MacGregor. The most recent book I read, The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont (1906), has a character named Douglas Sanderson. I published a Douglas Sanderson (1920-2002) as part of the Ricochet Books series.

    My favourite of these encounters is found in Stephen Leacock's "Heroes and Heroines," an essay on adventure novels. He writes of the athletic heroine popular in the 1890s, a young woman who "climbed crags in the Rockies... threw steers in Colorado with a lariat... came out strong in sea scenes and shipwrecks." According to Leacock: "She was generally called Kate Middleton, or some such plain, straightforward designation."

    1. Okay, you definitely win! That Leacock reference is the funniest ;) Plain & straightforward indeed!

  3. I love this book. In my dewy youth, I read every Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels book that hit the stands or the library stacks. (Except--sorry--Amelia Peabody after the delightful Crocodile on the Sandbank)

    This is her one and only I saved through various paperback purges, and I tend to reread it for fun every 10 years or so.

    It isn't the Ewen MacGregor ref that gets me. It's the person our Jamie resembles and, by necessity, impersonates. And the reason they give for his running from the Family Firm. Pre-1981, of course. And pre-1996. And pre-2005. Hmmm. Every time I read it, the man's fortunes have changed.

  4. Yes! This made me laugh. And it reminds me of The Prisoner of Zenda, though Jamie's doppelganger isn't nearly as dashing as Prince Rupert of Hentzau...


Thanks for stopping by ~ I always enjoy hearing your comments so please feel free to leave some!