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The Curse Maker
Arcturus / Roman Noir series, No 2
Kelli Stanley

Minotaur Books
2011/ ISBN 9780312654191
Historical Mystery Arcturus-Aquae Sulis (Bath), England-Roman Occupation/Ancient Times)

Reviewed by L J Roberts

First Sentence: The man was floating, serene, tunic swirling in the undulating waves like clouds against a blue sky.

Arcturus, a Roman physician, and his beautiful wife, Gwyna, have come to Acquae Sulis (Bath) for a holiday and to repair the breach in their marriage. Before they even arrive at their residence, they come across a dead body of a curse-maker floating in the sacred bath. Instead of a holiday, Arcturus is drawn into the world of curse-makers, deception, attempted seductions, attempts on his and his wife’s lives, and many more murders.

Kudos to Ms. Stanley for the author’s notes, a cast of characters—albeit frustratingly incomplete--and a glossary. They were tremendously helpful.

Ms. Stanley has written a book set in Ancient Times that makes us realize how little some things have changed. Even with the different customs and religion the plot, and certainly the motives, was quite contemporary and I had to keep reminding myself of the period in which the story was set. Even the reference to Stonehenge already being ancient during this time, didn’t help cement the feeling of the period. While with some books set in an earlier period are able to capture the feel of that time through the syntax of speech, that isn’t possible with classical Latin, but it did leave me with a feeling of the story being somewhat anachronistic.

On the other hand, there was so much to like about this book.

Arcturus is a wonderful character. His style is brusque with a wry humor; he’s both intelligent and tough, he is kind and loves his wife. Gwyna may be beautiful but is certainly not vapid or weak. The marriage may be going through a rough patch, but it will be resolved. The relationship is a critical element of the story and is used to enhance to story. The household domestic scenes provide both insight to the characters and a respite from the action but did, at times, threaten to divert the mystery.

I particularly liked Ms. Stanley’s ability to create a sense of place. Her descriptions of both places and actions are rich and vivid…”I threw the thought against a wall. It made a small red splat of fear and slowly oozed down to the floor.” Now, how much more powerful is that than saying “It’s like throwing spaghetti against the wall.” I shall certainly always remember her phrase instead.

I have never particularly cared for books set in Ancient Times due, I believe, to the difficulty of creating a realistic sense of time. What Ms. Stanley did achieve was writing a story I very much enjoyed, mainly due to the characters. I was pleasantly surprised just how much I did like the book and would definitely read another book in the series.

Reviewer's Note: More about Kelli Stanley's Series
Reviewed 2011
© 2011