NEW YORK – Barbara Mertz, a best-selling mystery writer who wrote novels under two pen names, has died. She was 85.

Mertz died Thursday morning at her home in Frederick, Md., her daughter, Elizabeth, told her publisher HarperCollins.

Mertz wrote more than 35 mysteries under the name Elizabeth Peters, including her most popular series about a daring Victorian archaeologist named Amelia Peabody. She also wrote 29 suspense novels under the pen name Barbara Michaels, and under her own name.

Born Barbara Louise Gross, Mertz grew up in small-town Illinois during the Depression and went to the University of Chicago on scholarship, where, she wrote on her website, “I was supposed to be preparing myself to teach – a nice, sensible career for a woman.”

But her true love was archaeology, and she soon found herself drawn to the department of Egyptology. She received a Ph.D. at the age of 23.

In the post-World War II era, she wasn’t encouraged to enter the field. “I recall overhearing one of my professors say to another, ‘At least we don’t have to worry about finding a job for her. She’ll get married,”‘ she wrote.

She did, and while raising two children, she decided to try her hand at mystery writing. It wasn’t until the family moved to Germany that she wrote something that attracted an agent.

She divorced in the 1970s. In 1998, Mertz received the grandmaster lifetime achievement award from the Mystery Writers of America, the top award from the mystery writers group.

Mertz is survived by her children, Elizabeth and Peter, and six grandchildren.


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