A Fond Farewell to Barbara Mertz

Barbara Mertz

I was very sorry to hear about the passing of mystery author Babara Mertz this week, at age 85. She sounded like a most adventurous and intriguing woman! She wrote nonfiction books on archeology (the career to which she originally aspired) and mystery novels chiefly under two pseudonyms, Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels. Her 35+ “Elizabeth Peters” books include several series featuring strong archeologist heroines, and probably are the best-known. I first discovered her under the “Barbara Michaels” persona, though, which she used for 29 eerie suspense novels, most with paranormal elements. She had been writing these for decades before I first came across one–it may have been Witch (1973). I started to seek them out because, although I’d been reading mysteries for a while, I didn’t hold out much hope of publishing a paranormal mystery. It seems to me that mystery fans always wanted the story to have a “rational” explanation, and if it involved a ghost or a psychic that phenomena was usually debunked at the end. Yet here was “Michaels” successfully writing paranormal mysteries–and they were great!

Early on, in the 1970s, I think the Michaels books were considered contemporary “gothics” because they usually included a romantic subplot, but I think they fall more solidly into the mystery/suspense category. The romance definitely takes a backseat to solving the murder or dealing with the paranormal threat, and while sometimes the heroine faces the typical gothic dilemma of having two attractive men interested in her, but not being sure she can trust either one, neither turns out to be the ideal knight in shining armor and she always “rescues” herself. Mertz/Michaels has been very much on my mind the last year or two, because discovering her books probably gave me the courage to forge ahead with my latest, Dark Music — I never really could make it work as a hard-core horror novel, but I think works well as a contemporary paranormal mystery.

I met Barbara briefly almost a decade ago at the Malice Domestic Mystery Conference in Maryland, and she signed one of her Michaels books for me. She pleasantly volunteered that she had stopped writing that line “because I ran out of ideas.” I guess after 29 Michaels books, she was entitled! When I returned to Malice this spring, she was scheduled to appear again and I had hoped to give her a copy of Dark Music, but at the last minute she was hospitalized and couldn’t make it. Perhaps that was the start of a decline from which she never recovered? At any rate, I regret I didn’t get that chance to connect with her one more time–I’m sure it was just a big a disappointment to her many fans who had jammed the ballroom to hear her speak–and she will be sorely missed. For more information, check out her website, http://www.mpmbooks.com/bio.html (“MPM” stands for “Mertz/Peters/Michaels.” For a special glimpse into her imaginative, witty personality, be sure to click on the link for her 85th birthday party!

Do you have any memories of Barbara’s books and/or of meeting her in person? If so, please share!

About Eileen Watkins

Eileen F. Watkins specializes in mystery and suspense fiction. In 2017 she launched the Cat Groomer Mysteries, starting with THE PERSIAN ALWAYS MEOWS TWICE, from Kensington Books. The second book in this series, THE BENGAL IDENTITY, comes out in spring of 2018. Eileen previously published eight novels with Amber Quill Press, chiefly paranormal suspense, and most recently the Quinn Matthews Haunting Mysteries. The first of those, DARK MUSIC, received the David G. Sasher Award at the 2014 Deadly Ink Mystery Conference. The second, HEX, DEATH & ROCK ‘N’ ROLL, was a Mystery finalist for the 2014 Next Generation EBook Awards. Eileen is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Liberty States Fiction Writers and Sisters in Crime. She serves as publicist for Sisters in Crime Central Jersey and also for New Jersey’s annual Deadly Ink Mystery Conference. Eileen comes from a journalistic background, having written on art, architecture, interior design and home improvement for daily newspapers and major magazines. Besides these topics, her interests include the paranormal and spirituality as well as animal training and rescue. She is seldom without at least one cat in the house and frequently visits the nearest riding stable. Visit her web site at www.efwatkins.com.
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7 Responses to A Fond Farewell to Barbara Mertz

  1. Oh no. I hadn’t heard the news. I always enjoyed her Amelia Peabody series – Amelia and Emerson were a great couple and the archeology was always well written (not surprising to hear that she also wrote nonfiction on that topic). Thank you for this post.

  2. Alice DiNizo says:

    I loved Barbara Michaels too!

  3. Mimi Weisbond says:

    Oh no-o-o-o. I had heard that Barbara Mertz (whom I will forever think of as Elizabeth Peters) was in the hospital. And now this. Her character, Amelia Peabody, had become my muse, sitting on my shoulder as I write and jabbing me (constantly)with her ascerbic comments. I always looked forward to her latest adventure, and seeing the family grow. Mertz’s books on Egyptology are also fascinating, in that they truly bring life and character into those dusty old bones. Oh, my. What a great loss.

  4. Roberta Rogow says:

    I loved the Amelia Peabody series, mostly because it carried the characters through the years.Beginning in the 1880’s, through the early years of the 20th century, and into the Great War and beyond, Amelia and Radcliffe met almost everyone in Egyptology, and ran into T.E.Lawrence, Howard Carter, and a number of lesser-known figures. I wasn’t as taken with the ‘Barbara Michaels’ persona, since I’m not a fan of romantic suspense.
    As For Ms Mertz herself… she was a lovely, friendly person, who was a major inspiration for my favorite mystery con, Malice Domestic. Her death is a loss.

  5. C.I. Kemp says:

    Barbara Michaels was a highly underrated writer of paranormal fiction. Witch remains one of my favorite (and dare I say again “underrated” work in the genre). She will be missed.

  6. I am sorry to hear of the death of Barbara Michaels. I enjoyed many of her books–from Ammie Come Home, which was delightfully creepy, to The Dancing Floor, an excellent suspense novel. I never got into her Amelia Peabody series but my daughter did and loved every one.

  7. Yes, those were two of my favorites, also. The Dancing Floor is a more recent book, but I read that early on. I got to Ammie much later–had to hunt it up on Amazon–but that’s great, classic haunted-house story. In fact, the paperback cover of Ammie, with a smoking candle on a small table near an open window, gave me the idea for the old-piano-near-a-window that we used for the cover of Dark Music.

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