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Nox Dormienda: A Long Night for Sleeping (An Arcturus Mystery) by Kelli Stanley
Edited by Gordon Aalborg
Review by Gayle Surrette
Five Star (ME) Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781594146664
Date: 18 July 2008 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Interview with Kelli Stanley / Show Official Info /

In Nox Dorminda, Arcturus is approached by a beautiful and poised woman who says that the governor may be in danger from none other than her intended husband, a man she abhors and admits she'd willingly murder. Arcturus has her followed and begins to check into her story. Guess who turns up dead? This simple beginning plunges Arcturus and his associates into a mystery that, if left unsolved, could plunge Brittan into a civil war, destabilize Agricola's position as governor, and cost many lives -- native and Roman.

While Nox Dormienda takes place in Londinium in 83 A.D. as Agricola struggles to bring Roman law and justice to the Brittans, it's very clearly noir, in this case Roman noir. Londinium is a trading center and, while not much of a city compared to today's standards or even Rome of its time -- it is a city with all the problems and social classes you'd expect: rich, poor, freed, citizens, natives, slaves -- all with various allegiances and alliances.

Arcturus is Agricola's physician and friend. He's also half-Brittan and, through his adoptive Roman father, eligible to wear a Senator's stripe. But he doesn't care for the political wrangling that is necessary to rise through the ranks. It seems that Arcturus is a do your job as best you can and keep your head down kind of guy. However, his sense of justice won't allow him to stand back and let innocent people suffer when he could make a difference. In the past, this has cost him -- position, friends, and political power.

But what is noir but one man striving to do the right thing against all odds because it is the right thing to do. Here in Londinium, Arcturus is that man. As the plot twists and turns, Arcturus finds that doing the right thing might have a pretty high price. It also is the only thing he can do. But it means putting his reputation and his position in jeopardy. Prior to the start of the book, we learn that Arcturus had tried unsuccessfully to keep Agricola from burning down a sacred grove of oaks. This event, while in the past, has colored the reactions of several people he has to deal with. They don't trust him or his loyalty. Being half-Brittan and half-Roman (even though a citizen), he is not truly accepted by either.

Stanley has given us a rich tapestry of a world with depth of color and detail that makes the Londinium of 83 A.D. come alive. Each character has a backstory that comes out naturally in the narrative. The plotting is tight and with enough twists and turns to keep a reader interested. As a classicist, Stanley has used her knowledge of historical societies and culture to help pull the reader in and keep them in this ancient world of political power plays. There's also a glossary of Latin words and phrases used in the book as well as a list of references. I often pick up bits of historical information, and this one lets me peek into the windows to see how the people of this time lived.

Readers of noir mysteries and of historical mysteries should find much to like in this, the first book of the Arcturus mysteries. Maledictus, the second book in the series is in the works, and I for one look forward to more adventures with Arcturus.

Our Readers Respond

From: Bill Cameron
    Indeed. Kelli does a marvelous job of not only telling a great story, she deftly extends the range of noir. She's a talented woman who not only knows her stuff when it comes to classical Britain, but also the nuances and subtleties of the noir form. Nox is a must-read!

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