Barbara Mertz, who wrote more than 70 books under a combination of her own name and two pen names, died Thursday at her country home on the outskirts of Frederick. She was 85.
Mertz was the prolific mystery author behind the beloved Amelia Peabody novels, written under the pen name Elizabeth Peters. The character was a British Victorian-era Egyptologist, a title that Mertz also held.
Born Sept. 29, 1927, Mertz grew up in Illinois and studied at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. She received a doctorate in Egyptology in 1952.
Mertz wrote on her website that she had planned to become an archaeologist, not a writer, though a sonnet she wrote in high school was published by the Saturday Review. Jobs in Egyptology were “few and far between” after she graduated, and it was even worse for women, she wrote. Instead, she married and had two children. She divorced in 1969 and raised her children, Elizabeth and Peter, as a single mother.
Mertz began writing while raising her children after discovering her love of reading mysteries, but her first attempts were nonstarters, she wrote on her website. Finally, a book aroused some interest in publishing circles, Mertz wrote.
“It didn't sell, but it got me an agent,” she wrote. Her first two books, "Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs, A Popular History of Egyptology" and "Red Land, Black Land, Daily Life in Ancient Egypt," remained in print for more than 30 years.
“Finally that degree had 'paid off,' — in a way I never expected,” Mertz wrote on her website.
Her first mystery novel, "The Master of Blacktower," was published in 1966 under the pseudonym of Barbara Michaels. At least 29 other novels would follow under the name Barbara Michaels and another 35 as Elizabeth Peters.
“It has taken me over a quarter of a century to realize that I love to write, and that this is what I should have focused on from the beginning,” Mertz wrote on her website.
Mertz's home off Lorien Court in Frederick was quiet Thursday afternoon. Mertz moved to her 1820s farmhouse in Frederick from Potomac nearly 40 years ago, seeking a more private home in the country in which to write and pursue her many pastimes -- including gardening. The home is surrounded by beautiful, unusual gardens.
Dominick Abel worked as Mertz's agent for 35 years. He called her a “skilled novelist with an acute sense of character and humor” who “prized honesty above all, in life as well as literature.”
“Barbara was passionate about many things — Egypt, literature, gardening, cats, politics, family, gin,” Abel said in a statement Thursday. “She was one of the most interesting people I have ever known. I will miss her.”
On her website, Barbara Mertz wrote that she loved her work “and I hope to go on doing it till I drop at the age of 99.”
Barbara is survived by her loving children, Elizabeth and Peter, her sister Carol, and by her six beloved grandchildren: Gabriel, Rosie, Ben, Olivia, Becca, and Jenny.
The family will receive friends at the Stauffer Funeral Home, 1621 Opossumtown Pike, Frederick on Sunday, August 12 from 12:00-3:30PM.
Interment will be private.