I was very saddened to hear about the death of Barbara Mertz the other day. Better known by her pen names Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels, she wrote smart mysteries and suspense. I devoured her books after discovering them when I was a teenager and spent lots of time at the library, staring at the shelves and hoping that an unread title would miraculously appear.
Her protagonists were always women, usually college educated with advanced degrees, and intelligent. The reoccurring character of art historian Vicki Bliss particularly captivated me and might have been a factor in my decision to major in Art History in college (I switched to plain old History after a semester, I was apparently no Vicki Bliss). I also loved that many of her books were set locally for me- Mertz lived in Frederick, only about 20 minutes away from my hometown of Germantown and she wrote books set in places like Georgetown, Leesburg, and Poolesville.
The Vicki Bliss and other straight mysteries (including the wildly popular ones featuring Egyptologist Amelia Peabody) were written under the name Elizabeth Peters while the more suspenseful and even supernatural books were written under Barbara Michaels. I’m a straight up skeptic and do not believe in ghosts. Except when reading one of her books.
I don’t think every book she ever wrote was wonderful (the last Vicki Bliss was quite the clunker and I got tired of the ever spunky Amelia after a while) but her successes far outweighed her, not so much failures as not quite successes.
She will be missed and I’m glad that she was able to live such a long and productive life. Her books are a great legacy; we should all be so lucky.