Book Review: “The Curse Maker” by Kelli Stanley

Book Review

Genre:  Mystery, Roman Noir (Engrossing historical mystery, History 101 for me )

Rating:  3.5 WaterTowers

“The Curse Maker” is an ARC sent to me by Kelli Stanley.  It is due in stores Feb 1, 2011.  For the sake of full disclosure….I love Kelli Stanley 🙂

Julius Alpinius Classicianus Favonianus (aka Arcturus), the Roman Governor’s Doctor and his wife Gwyna are on holiday at the famous hot water baths, Aquae Sulis (now Bath, England, UK).

Something was wrong with Gwyna, so a holiday at the spa is just what the Doctor ordered, even though Arcturus seems to be the only one who does not know what is wrong with his wife (he had just returned home from several months away).

Near the spa, curse-writer Rufus Bilbax floats in the water.  Dead.  Spotting something shiny in his mouth, Arcturus forces his mouth open to find a small piece of lead with the word Ultor (the Avenger) written on it.

Rufus was murdered, and it became Arcturus’s (and Gwyna’s) task to find the murderer.

Thus starts “The Curse Maker”.

As Arcturus embarks on his quest to find the murderer, he finds an ever increasing number of mysteries that could be related to the murders (oh, yeah, this is not the first), and struggles to make sense of all the information.

There is a lead mine outside of town that is supposedly haunted by a ghost, and has been closed.  The mine becomes a lead for Arcturus and one day he sets out to take a look. When he arrives he discovers an active silver mine (yup…not lead), an emaciated beaten donkey, and some very tough individuals (not ghosts).  He almost dies.  Almost.  In her great wisdom, Gwyna asked recently freed slave Draco to follow Arcturus to the mine.  Draco saves Arcturus’s life (more than once).

Back in town….the list of suspects continues to grow as does the list of dead.

Among the people he suspects of some kind of wrongdoing, although he does not know what wrong-doing for which-person, are:  Aquae Sulis’s Doctor, Philo. Philo takes an immediate liking to Gwyna, and Arcturus immediately dislikes Philo, Bathmaster Octavio, temptress Sulpicia and her boyfriend Vitellius, necromancer Faro, good for nothing Sestius, and town leaders Grattius and Secundus (and his evil wife, Materna, and beautiful, and loose, daughter Secunda).


Does Arcturus find the murderer?  What is wrong with Gwyna?  Why does Philo like Gwyna so much?  How does each suspect fit into the mystery or mysteries?  Does the donkey survive?  Well, you are just going to have to go to the bookstore on Feb 1, 2011 and buy the book to find out, ’cause I ain’t gonna tell ya.  🙂

A black hole in my education is history.  With “The Curse Maker” Kelli Stanley has provided me with a first course in Roman history in England, and also with a bit of Latin.  Luckily for the latter there is a glossary of terms which I referred to constantly throughout the book (this slowed my slow reading even more, but, was very educational).

Pick up a copy of “The Curse Maker” for an engrossing mystery with an incredible cast of characters and vivid settings in and around Aquae Sulis.  I will now try (it is out of print, but, may be back in paper and ebook form) to go back to read the first book in this series “Nox Dormienda” (yeah, I broke rule #23…read no book out of order).

This is funny…. I had a hard time adjusting my brain to the time period….I found myself urging Arcturus to call (ya know, via cell phone) for help, or employ CSI methods to solve the crimes….DUH…this happened around 40 AD.


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