Arcturus / Roman Noir series, No 2
2011/ ISBN 9780312654191
Historical Mystery Arcturus-Aquae Sulis (Bath), England-Roman Occupation/Ancient
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
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.