Barbara Mertz, 85, known as Barbara Michaels and Elizabeth Peters to the readers of her mystery novels and romantic thrillers with a historical twist, died Thursday Aug. 8 at her home in Frederick, Md.
Growing up in Astoria, Ill., with fewer than 2,000 people was “idyllic,” she wrote in an autobiography, except for the lack of a public library. But Barbara Gross (as she was known then) and her family moved to Oak Park when she was in fourth grade. It was here she found a treasure she had often desired: A public library. The library, along with her formative years at Oak Park and River Forest High School, awakened her natural gift for writing.
She remembered that she was accused by her OPRFHS English teacher of plagiarizing a sonnet, which then appeared in Saturday Review — “The only thing I’ve ever written that has appeared in a respectable literary magazine,” she wrote on her website.
The source of much of Mertz’s inspiration was ancient Egyptian culture. It had been a love of hers since the age of 13. Her love for all things Egyptian propelled her into an Egyptology Ph. D. program 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, Mertz married Richard Mertz and had two children, Elizabeth and Peter. She and Mertz later divorced.
As Elizabeth Peters (the nom de plume created from her two children’s names) she wrote Crocodile on the Sandbank (1975) and The Last Camel Died at Noon (1991), as well as many other books.
Mertz received many awards for her work, including an Agatha Mystery Lifetime Achievement Award.
She enjoyed, “her cats, her garden, lots of chocolate and not nearly enough gin,” she wrote on her website.