Barbara Mertz, 85, known as Barbara Michaels and Elizabeth Peters to the readers of more than 70 mystery novels and romantic thrillers with a historical twist, died on Aug. 8, 2013 at her home in Frederick, Md.
Growing up in Astoria, Ill., with fewer than 2,000 people was "idyllic," she wrote in an autobiography. But she lamented the lack of a public library. When the Gross family moved to Oak Park when she was in fourth grade, however, she found the treasure she had been missing — the Scoville Institute. The village's public library, along with her formative years at Oak Park and River Forest High School, awakened her natural gift for writing.
Ms. Mertz recalled that she was accused by her OPRF English teacher of plagiarizing a sonnet because it was too good for a high school student to have written. Later, it appeared in Saturday Review: "The only thing I've ever written that has appeared in a respectable literary magazine," she wrote on her website.
Ancient Egyptian culture was the source of much of Mertz's inspiration. Since the age of 13, her love for all things Egyptian propelled her into a Ph.D. program in Egyptology at the University of Chicago in 1952.
Many of her novels were about the mysteries of Egypt, including a series about the adventures of a heroine and archeologist named Amelia Peabody.
After receiving her doctorate, she married Richard Mertz and had two children, Elizabeth and Peter. The couple later divorced.
As Elizabeth Peters (one of two pseudonyms) she wrote Crocodile on the Sandbank (1975) and The Last Camel Died at Noon (1991), in addition to many other books, some under the name Barbara Michaels.
She received many awards for her mysteries, including an Agatha Christie Award for Best Novel (Naked Once More, 1989).
In addition to writing and research in Egypt, she wrote on her website, she enjoyed "her cats, her garden, lots of chocolate and not nearly enough gin."
She is survived by two children and six grandchildren.