Barbara Mertz, the suspense and mystery writer who worked under the names Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels, died Thursday at home in Frederick, Maryland. She was 85.
A brief notice at NPR said that her agent Dominick Abel confirmed her passing.
The University of Chicago trained Egyptologist wrote academic works under her own name.
However, Barbara Mertz was better known to mystery readers as Elizabeth Peters. Under that name, she wrote over 30 novels about a Victorian-era amateur crime-solver and Egyptologist named Amelia Peabody.
Under the name Barbara Michaels, she wrote gothic novels including 1960s-era bestsellers like Ammie, Come Home.
A full list of her books is maintained on her official Mertz Peters Michaels (MPM) website. Suffice it to say that if you’ve read much in the way of crime novels set in Egypt or 20th century gothic, you’ve almost certainly read something by Barbara Mertz.
According to an obituary in the Huffington Post, the multi-talented Mertz got her doctorate in Egyptology at the age of 23. She published two nonfiction books before her fiction career got underway.
Those two works — Temples, Tombs, And Hieroglyphs and Red Land, Black Land — remained in print for over 30 years. They were considered basic texts for Egyptology students.
But the pull of fiction was even stronger. Mertz ultimately wrote over 60 novels. Early in her career, before we had the example of Stephen King, being prolific was considered a negative thing for a writer. That’s why her publisher asked her to use different pen names for different kinds of books.
In a 2007 interview, Mertz said that her favorite book as a child was Anne Of Green Gables. She also noted that Bram Stoker’s Dracula probably influenced her work as Barbara Michaels more than she understood at the beginning of her career.
Barbara Mertz is survived by two children named Elizabeth and Peter, who were the obvious source for her Amelia Peabody series pen name Elizabeth Peters.