A River in the Sky is the latest book in Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series, which up till now has been pretty much in chronological order. In this story, Peters takes us back to when the younger protagonists were still teenagers, and moves the action to Jerusalem instead of the usual Egyptian setting.
I've written before about the Peabody series, which is a love-it-or-hate-it relationship for most readers. I'm a fan, so I was a little dismayed about the setting not being Egypt--but my disappointment didn't last long. It was quite a relief to go back in time a few years, as the Emerson family was getting a bit overwhelming as the third generation started to come on the scene, and indeed A River in the Sky has the smallest number of minor characters I can recall in any of the books.
In fact, in some ways it's a different kind of book altogether. It's much more tightly written and plot-focused than the other Peabody books, and some readers may miss the pastiche of Victorian adventure genres and the romantic comedy of the other books. Others will relish their absence. Even Emerson and Amelia seem to have brought their performance down a few notches; they are almost realistic. I feel that Peters may be trying to take her well-loved characters in a new direction. After all, the original story really has gone about as far as it can, and she's still got an audience keen to read more Peabody, so why not?
All in all, I found this to be a fun page-turner with enough plot to keep the action boiling. The location of early 20th-century Palestine provides plenty of scope to introduce foreign spies and secret societies, and there was even the tiniest touch of Egyptology to satisfy the Peabody purists. The leanness of the writing ended up being quite satisfying, with far less verbal sparring between the Emerson clan than there usually is. The result, I think, was a book that could function as a standalone adventure novel for readers who have not read, or are not willing to read, the rest of the series. This is one to throw in your beach bag or pack for a long plane ride, to devour in one sitting.