gently over the gardens of MPM Manor...Its not the opening
to one of her novels, but the real life of mystery writer Barbara
Mertz, PhB47, AM50, PhD52, on her ten-acre homesteadnamed
MPM Manornear Frederick, Maryland. Its also the life
of New York Times best-selling novelists Elizabeth Peters and Barbara
Michaelsthe pseudonyms that account for the P and the second
M of MPM, the acronym by which she is known.
year, the preeminent guild in her field, the Mystery Writers of
America, gave Mertz its 1998 Grand Master award for lifetime achievement,
putting her in the company of such recent winners as Dick Francis,
Mickey Spillane, Ruth Rendell, and Tony Hillerman. March sees the
release of Barbara Michaelss Other Worlds (HarperCollins),
in which the worlds most famous crime specialists, from Harry
Houdini to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, meet in an exclusive club to
solve two cases. The Falcon at the Portal (Avon Books), the
11th in Elizabeth Peterss Amelia Peabody series, will appear
in bookstores in June. Number 12 about Peabody, a Victorian Egyptologist-cum-detective,
and her dashing husband, Radcliffe Emerson, is already under contract.
the author of two other mystery seriesknown, like the Peabody
books, for their humor; well-researched detail; and strong heroines,
in these cases Vicky Bliss and Jacqueline Kirby. Michaelss
books tend to be thrillers, often with supernatural elements, rather
than straight whodunits.
But it was
under Mertzs own name, and emerging from her doctoral work
at the Oriental Institute, that her first two books were published:
Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs: A Popular History of Ancient
Egypt and Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt.
planned it that way, turning to nonfiction only when the first mysteries
she wrote didnt find publishers. When her gothic novel The
Master of Blacktower was printed in 1967, its publisher suggested
that readers might be confused because of her academic work, so
Mertzs agent chose the name Barbara Michaels. When she wrote
the mystery The Jackals Head (1968), her agent informed
her she was in danger of being labeled prolific. So,
combining her two childrens names, she came up with Elizabeth
Peters. Since then Mertz has published at least one book a year,
often two, one under each of her pen names.
the plots as she writes, often under deadline pressure. When
I find a deadline is looming, she says, I suddenly think
Oh, my! and my assistant shoves me at the desk,
brings me cups of coffee at regular intervals, and feeds me from
time to time. I can do a book in three months if I spend all day,
seven days a week at it, and, in fact, I work better that way.
I have a chance to expand my imagination and revel in the
kind of fantasies that a lot of people enjoy but arent able
to turn into a paying occupation. Its great fun to be able
to lose yourself in an imaginary world.
the real world as well, researching settings around the globe. A
February trip to Egypt no doubt yielded fresh material for Elizabeth
the percolator include revising her two nonfiction books and writing
another entry in the Vicky Bliss series. She and her assistant produce
an MPM newsletter, and a number of fans have devoted Web sites to
recently wrote on MysteryNet.com, As Barbara Michaels I have
written about Etruscan archaeology, Victorian culture and history,
the Risorgimento, and garden restoration...the Elizabeth Peters
novels include such disparate backgrounds as Riemanschneider and
Richard III...When people ask When are you going to write
a serious book? my response is, Every book I have written
is a serious book. Especially the mysteries.
Betsy Rossen Elliot