Her real name was Barbara Mertz, but millions of readers knew her either as “Elizabeth Peters” or “Barbara Michaels.” The prolific author of dozens of historical mysteries and supernatural thrillers died on August 8, 2013, at her home in Frederick, Maryland.
Mertz was born on September 29, 1927, in Astoria, Illinois, but grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, going to the same high school Ernest Hemingway once attended. (She admitted that she never much cared for his writing style.) A teenage fascination with Egypt led to the pursuit of a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and doctoral degrees in Egyptology from the University of Chicago.
As an academician, Dr. Mertz had few professional opportunities, although she did write two scholarly books on ancient Egypt. As a novelist, however, Mertz was able to channel her interests into areas of historical intrigue that showcased the myriad intricacies of ancient Egypt and archaeology.
Though she wrote nineteen novels starring a Victorian pyramid explorer named Amelia Peabody under the “Elizabeth Peters” pseudonym, Mertz made her fiction debut as “Barbara Michaels” in 1966 with the supernatural suspense novel, The Master of Blacktower. As Michaels, Mertz wrote twenty-nine novels, most of them stand-alone gothic thrillers. As Peters, Mertz also wrote a series of six mysteries featuring art history professor Vicky Bliss, and four mysteries that followed the amateur sleuthing capers of librarian Jacqueline Kirby.
In announcing her death, Mertz’s website posted the following statement:
Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels) died peacefully at home early in the morning of Aug. 8, 2013. She had put up a very tough battle against cancer for over a decade, in a style worthy of Amelia. She preferred not to be fussed over, and so did not make her illness public. She died as she had told everyone she wanted to–unexpectedly, in her sleep. Shortly before her death, she had written a line to be posted on this webpage: “At 85, Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Michaels) is enjoying her cats, her garden, lots of chocolate, and not nearly enough gin.”
In the opinion of this fan, those were great last words. I hope to be able to say the same some day.