The man was floating, serene, tunic swirling in the undulating waves like clouds against a blue sky.-The Curse-Maker
I was intrigued when I first heard about Kelli Stanely's Roman noir series featuring doctor and investigator, Arcturus. It seemed like a bit of a stretch to set a detective novel in 83 A.D. London and use the noir style of writing. Luckily, Stanley has proven my skepticism wrong yet again with The Curse-Maker, the sequel to her 2008 debut novel, Nox Dormienda (A Long Night for Sleeping).
Nox Dormienda had a small release and is currently out of print. Used copies are few and sell at a premium on Amazon and Abe Books. I think Stanley realizes this and has written The Curse-Maker in such a way that readers new to the series won't feel lost.
At the novel's opening, we find that not all is well with Arcturus and his new wife, Gwyna, whom he rescued in Nox Dormienda and eventually fell in love with. Arcturus' time away from home serving as Governor Agricola's chief physician seems to have dampened the spark of their love. In an attempt to rekindle their romance, Arcturus and Gwyna travel to the vacation town of Aquae Sulis (Bath) where a less than relaxing scene greets them. A curse writer named Bibax is found dead in one of the sacred pools. Arcturus is asked to investigate the murder and the couple embark into the dark side of the seemingly serene city. A world where the dead speak, the living are haunted, and curses might just come true after all.
Stanley really does do a beautiful job with this book. You don't need a Master's in the Classics to appreciate all the historic detail. Stanley even provides a glossary so that readers can understand the Latin words and phrases she works effortlessly into her prose.
The plot is a well balanced mix of Arcturus and Gwyna's investigation as well as their private life. The dialogue feels natural, almost poetic, and the more (ahem) "grown up" scenes will make you wish there is someone next to you in bed while you're reading. Potentially someone you like, but that's a different matter entirely.
The Curse-Maker is a must have if you are looking for a good historical mystery. Stanley's other two novels have already won a number of awards and accolades including a Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award for Nox Dormienda and City of Dragons was named a Indie Next Book. I'm sure The Curse-Maker will fare just as well.
If you like Stanley's style, there is more on the way. City of Secrets, the second installment to her Miranda Corbie P.I. series will be out this summer. If anyone can revive the noir genre, it's Stanley.