REVIEW: Nox Dormienda by Kelli Stanley
Dear Ms. Stanley,
Having fallen in love with the idea of historical mysteries after devouring my first Marcus Didius Falco book, I got all excited to learn there’s a new ancient Roman series in the works. And one that’s set in Roman Britain and is written in the “noir” style too. As I read the book, I wondered why I like the setting of ancient Rome/Roman Britain so much. I haven’t nailed down a reason yet but I’m happy to have another book utilizing the setting.
But is it truly a new subgenre? I like the gritty feel to the book but it’s not that much different from other historical Roman mystery series. Plus the hero is a doctor, a profession already used by Ruth Downie in her fledgling series. It’s told in first person POV but so is Lindsay Davis’s series. It’s fast paced and intense but, IMO, so is the Falco series. It uses rough, vulgar language which is a slight variation on Falco but not by much. Bad things happen in that series as well. Perhaps it’s slightly more noir but not enough that it’s that distinguishable.
Shouldn’t true roman noir mean Arcturus would fall in love with the wrong type of woman as in the Maltese Falcon? Okay, I read your short description of what noir is and what your book is and isn’t. I can agree that since it’s a series, you’re not going to make life unrelentingly bleak for Arcturus. However, the end scenes with three couples in Arcturus’s house got too syrupy sweet with love glances and tender feelings on display.
I don’t like being spoon fed or info dumped but a few things, like the names Arcturus and Ardus needed to be explained at the beginning. There are also references to past events, like how he met Gwyna, that are never explained. I realize that characters can’t spring from the author’s head, new born with no history, like Minevera, but a few crumbs of details being tossed to us would be nice. Thanks for Latin glossary though.
I would venture to guess that most readers pick up a mystery because they’re, well, interested in finding out who dunnit along with seeing what an author will do with a setting, group of characters or time period. And I know that as I’m reading a mystery, I try and figure out the clues and deduce who the villain is. I like to think I have a half way reasonable chance of arriving at the correct conclusion by the time the book ends. Or at least, once All is Known, mentally recapping the story and seeing where a clever author laid the groundwork for the unraveling.
I did catch lots of your clues and could follow Arcturus’s reasoning. The ultimate villain was a bit of a surprise yet not totally from out of the blue. And while I didn’t realize early on who the guilty were, I enjoyed watching Arcturus and his household whittle down the list of suspects, ferret out knowledge and finally nab the culprits. But I hate mysteries where the villain blabs all in the end as he holds the hero/heroine captive. This book has both the villain and hero trying to one-up each other as they tell the reader what happened.
The detail is wonderful and it’s obvious you’ve a) put a lot of time into writing the book and getting all this in without troweling it on in clumps and b) that you’ve spent hella time studying the time/people/history.
Since Arcturus is a doctor / problem solver, I wanted to see him doctoring more than I did. We get a teensy bit at the beginning and some intense stuff at one point later in the book, but for the most part, this aspect of his life isn’t seen much. I also wanted to see him use more of his medical skills beyond the initial inspection after the discovery of the first murder in order to crack the case. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Perhaps in the future?
“Nox Dormienda” leaves me wanting to read more of this series and know more about these people. I felt compelled to keep reading and finish it as quickly as possible unlike some books which I can put down for days or weeks without feeling the Need to Read come upon me. However, I’m still not truly sold that this is such a ground breaking new subgenre. B