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Literature / Vicky Bliss

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The Vicky Bliss mysteries are a series of crime novels with a heavy dash of romance written by Elizabeth Peters, best known for her Amelia Peabody series of historical crime fiction. In reading order, the books in the series are:

  • Borrower of the Night (1973)
  • Street of the Five Moons (1978)
  • Silhouette in Scarlet (1983)
  • Trojan Gold (1987)
  • Night Train to Memphis (1994)
  • The Laughter of Dead Kings (2008)

One of Peters' earlier novels, The Camelot Caper (1969) is not technically a Vicky Bliss novel, but introduces several characters who go on to be main characters in the series.

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The Vicky Bliss Mysteries provide examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Pietro
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Pietro has several phases of drunkenness. In the last phase, he charges people to duels. With umbrellas.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Vicky with Leif in Silhouette in Scarlet.
    • John with Mary in Night Train to Memphis.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Vicky
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: Mary does this to John in Night Train to Memphis. Much Angst ensues.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: John to Vicky in Trojan Gold. Vicky eventually returns the compliment in Night Train to Memphis.
  • Animated Armor: In Borrower of the Night. Turns out Schmidt is inside it.
  • Avenging the Villain: Mary in Night Train to Memphis wants to avenge the death of the Big Bad in Silhouette in Scarlet.
  • Ax-Crazy: Leif in Silhouette in Scarlet. His sister Mary in Night Train to Memphis. It Runs in the Family.
  • Babies Ever After: What Vicky is explicitly rebelling against throughout most of the series, particularly in Borrower of the Night, when she turns down Tony's marriage proposal while expressing her disinterest in marriage and babies. Hinted to be Played Straight at the end of The Laughter of Dead Kings, when Vicky proposes to John (who accepts) and John suggests to Vicky that they try for a baby (which she denies wanting, but it's implied she's not being entirely truthful).
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  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Between Vicky and John. Especially impressive since they manage to carry it on long after they start sleeping together.
  • Betty and Veronica: Gender Flipped in Trojan Gold: Tony (Betty) and John (Veronica).
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Schmidt may seem like a chubby and harmless old man, but he was an incredibly competent resistance agent during the war. And an infamously skilled Olympic fencer. And he loves Vicky as if she was his own daughter. Bad guys would do well to bear these facts in mind.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Dieter turns out to be the Big Bad in Trojan Gold.
  • Con Men Hate Guns: John never carries a weapon because the sentence would be much higher if he got caught.
  • Canon Welding: With Peters' Amelia Peabody series. Several throwaway references in Night Train to Memphis and a whole subplot in The Laughter of Dead Kings reveal that not only do the two series take place in the same universe, but that John is directly descended from the Peabody-Emerson family: he is the great-great-grandson of Amelia and Emerson, great-grandson of Ramses and Nefret, and grandson of the unnamed daughter that Nefret is pregnant with in Tomb of the Golden Bird.
    John: I’m not even in the direct line; I’m descended from their younger granddaughter. That and two pounds ten, as the saying goes, is good for a cup of coffee at any Starbucks.
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  • Cats Are Mean: Definitely the impression given by Vicky's kitten Clara.
  • Character Name Alias: In a way. John Tregarth goes by John Smythe for most of the series. Vicky is unimpressed.
    Vicky: Oh yeah? What's that I heard about your ancestor and Pocahontas?
  • Comic-Book Time: The first book was published in 1974, the last in 2008. The characters age only a few years, while the world around them changes quite a lot: Cellphones and the Internet are invented, the Cold War has ended. Peters addresses this issue in her foreword to The Laughter of Dead Kings.
  • Consummate Liar: John
  • Consummate Professional: Max. He is rather annoyed that his partners in crime do not share his attitude.
  • Creator Cameo: Elizabeth Peters appears in The Laughter of Dead Kings as an author who wrote the Amelia Peabody series based on journals which she bought from John's mother.
  • Creepy Souvenir: Max cuts silhouettes. He has a "special collection" in red paper — of people he killed.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Schmidt - easily the nicest character in the entire series, possessed of cherubic innocence and naivety - was a member of La Résistance in Nazi Germany. The reason he's never married is not a lack of inclination to do so, but because he lost his fiancée in a particularly brutal raid.
    • All of this makes his relationship with Vicky a bit of a Tear Jerker at times, since he quite literally seems to see her as representing the daughter he and his future wife would have had, had she survived the war.
  • Dating Catwoman: Schmidt's new girlfriend in The Laughter of Dead Kings is revealed to be a CIA agent who'd been tasked with monitoring John.
  • Deadpan Snarker: John gets most of the best ones, although Vicky's not far behind him.
  • Disney Death: John at the end of Silhouette in Scarlet. He looks to be about to have another in Trojan Gold, but it doesn't turn out that way in the end.
  • Dogs Are Dumb: Caesar is so good-natured and slow-witted that even as a kitten Clara can boss him around with ease.
  • Dumb Blonde: Vicky fears that she's pigeonholed by this stereotype, despite holding a PhD in Art History.
  • The Dragon: Max to Leif in Silhouette in Scarlet and to Larry Blenkiron in Night Train to Memphis.
  • Dragon Ascendant: Max hints that Leif's death opens new perspectives for his criminal career.
  • Easily Forgiven: Schmidt at the end of the first book, considering he was in with the bad guys and hypnotized Irma. He is heartily sorry, however.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Mary, the Big Bad in Night Train to Memphis, turns out to be motivated by a desire to avenge the deaths of her brothers, Leif and Georg, who were themselves the main bad guys in Silhouette in Scarlet.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: In Street of the Five Moons, Vicky explains that her colouring is particularly admired in her adopted home in Bavaria because the vast majority of people native to the region are brunettes.
  • Everybody Did It: Tony complains about this at the end of Borrower of the Night. The other books have a tendency to have every character somehow involved as well.
  • Evil Aunt: The Countess in Borrower of the Night.
  • The Fake Cutie: Mary
  • Faking the Dead: John apparently dies at the end of Silhouette in Scarlet. Naturally, he's alive and well and back on the scene in Trojan Gold.
  • Fatal Attraction: Vicky to Leif in Silhouette in Scarlet.
    • A much more literal example is Helena to Luigi in Street of the Five Moons.
  • Female Feline, Male Mutt: Vicky's pets, an adult male Doberman Pinscher named Caesar and a female Siamese kitten called Clara.
  • Females Are More Innocent: Subverted in Borrower of the Night: Vicky and Tony believe Konstanze to be the innocent victim of witch-hunting. In fact, she killed her husband Burckhardt and worshipped Satan.
  • Finger in the Mail: 'Laughter of Dead Kings'' has first a severed hand of [[Mummy Tutankhamon]] and later that of a recently killed woman. Both times meant as a warning.
  • Genre Savvy: Vicky often mentions what heroines in novels would do. John has moments as well.
  • Gentleman Thief: John.
  • The Ghost: Vicky's family - including parents, grandparents, at least two brothers and an apparent army of nieces and nephews - are mentioned often but never seen.
    • Vicky's original pet dog, Duke, is mentioned in Street of the Five Moons when Vicky is explaining why she's so calm and competent around large dogs, but never appears in the books; he's never even mentioned again once Vicky adopts Caesar (although the fact that she refers to him as being "back in Cleveland" suggests that Tony might have taken him in when she moved to Germany).
  • Girlfriend in Canada: Tony's fiancée Anne in Trojan Gold. Turns out the picture he shows Vicky came with the wallet; he hoped to make her jealous enough to win her back. It just might even have worked if John hadn't come out with an Anguished Declaration of Love at around the same time.
  • Gold Digger: Friedel in Trojan Gold.
  • Gratuitous German: Especially Schmidt, but many other characters as well.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: John is fond of pulling these: he gets one in Silhouette in Scarlet and another in Trojan Gold. He always manages to survive them (obviously).
  • I Have Brothers: Vicky is the only daughter in a family with either two or three sons (it's never quite clear), and references this often when explaining why her ultra-feminine appearance is sometimes at odds with her tomboy personality.
  • I Just Want to Be You!: Alan goes into crime to follow the example of his idol John.
  • Iconic Sequel Character: John doesn't appear in Borrower of the Night, but quickly becomes the Deuteragonist after joining the series in Street of the Five Moons.
  • Immigrant Parents: Vicky is a second-generation American, with Swedish grandparents apparently on both sides.
  • Identical Grandson: Irma and the portrait of her ancestor Konstanze. Subverted in the end, since the portrait is a fake.
  • Karmic Thief: John tries to invoke this in Street of the Five Moons. Vicky is not convinced.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Schmidt takes over the sword fight against Alan in Laughter of Dead Kings and wins, because he is quite literally "the greatest swordsman in Europe" and has won an Olympic gold medal in fencing.
  • Like a Son to Me: Schmidt and Vicky's relationship can only be described this way.
  • Like Brother and Sister: How Vicky sees Tony (most of the time). Definitely not how Tony sees Vicky.
  • Master Swordsman: ''A to Z'' Schmidt. So-called because he could take his opponents apart from a to z!
  • My Beloved Smother: Both Vicky's and John's mothers get into this role on occasion. It's hard to know which should get extra points: John's mother for really being as bad as he describes her when she eventually appears, or Vicky's for managing this while still being The Ghost.
    • It should be noted that this is almost always Played for Laughs in both cases, though.
  • Norse by Norsewest: Vicky's Swedish heritage has granted her all the traditional hallmarks of Scandinavian beauty: blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin, above average height and "all the right curves". She actually finds this incredibly annoying, since her personality does not particularly match the stereotype.
  • Oktoberfest: They don't visit the Wiesn themselves, but two books are set in Bavaria, so a lot of beer and Brotzeit and Trachten are to be had.
  • Pastimes Prove Personality: Max cuts silhouettes. He has a special collection of people he killed.
  • Perfect Poison: Justified in Borrower of the Night, since arsenic could not be detected in medieval times.
  • The Prankster: Dieter in Trojan Gold.
  • Psycho for Hire: Mary helps Blenkiron with his plan in Laughter of Dead Kings in order to avenge her brother.
  • Romantic False Lead: Tony for Vicky in Borrower of the Night, further compounded when John was introduced in Street of the Five Moons. It becomes a minor plot point in Trojan Gold, the only novel where both men make appearances.
    • Weirdly enough, Schmidt for Vicky in the same book. Vicky initially thinks that he's attracted to her and when they announce their decision to leave together at the end, everyone assumes they're getting married, to their great amusement - he was actually offering her a job, which she'd accepted. It's clear in every subsequent book that their relationship is never anything but an extremely sweet father-daughter surrogate.
    • The initial set-up of Silhouette in Scarlet makes it look as though Vicky is finished with John and will start a relationship with Leif. Naturally, things don't turn out that way.
    • Night Train to Memphis starts out with the revelation that John has actually married someone else since the last time he saw his on-again, off-again girlfriend Vicky. It turns out that she was the Big Bad and had forced him into it, meaning there was never any romance involved, except from Vicky's point of view. Luckily for John, who might have had trouble obtaining a divorce from her, she's killed off by the end of the book.
  • Setting Update: Technically every Vicky Bliss novel is contemporary to the year it was written, regardless of the fact that the characters age only a small amount every time (usually between six months and two years). However, this didn't become jarring until the Series Hiatus of nearly fifteen years from the mid '90s to the late '00s - Vicky and co.'s sudden access to mobile phones and the Internet makes it seem like a very different world indeed.
  • Spooky Séance: In Borrower of the Night. Another case of "Scooby-Doo" Hoax.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Vicky and John, again.
  • Took a Level in Badass: The last book reveals that Schmidt had a badass skill all along and is actually an Olympic gold medallist in fencing.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Jan Perlmutter in The Laughter of Dead Kings. He only wanted to protect the artifacts.
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