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
This book can be purchased in hard cover from Amazon or Powells. No ebook format.
Oh lord, did she actually name the book something like The Big Sleep?
Thanks very much for the thoughtful review of Nox Dormienda! Alas, Ruth Downie came out with Medicus after I’d received my publication news, so the fact that we both created medici was just a matter of coincidence. I thought her book was terrific.
Thanks again for your comments. I’ve a Masters Degree in Classics, which helps considerably with research.
As for the title … it’s from a line of poetry by Catullus (first century BCE Roman poet), and is the basis for subsequent literary metaphors, including Hamlet’s soliloquy and Chandler’s The Big Sleep. As I mention in the acknowledgments, the homage is intentional … Chandler knew his Greek and Latin very well, and happens to be my favorite noir writer.
Another book added to the TBR list! Thanks Jane!
I wish there was an ebook available. Hardcover only means it’s going to be a bitch for overseas sales.
There you go! People can make a living with a Classics degree. I loved the two classes I took in college and would have been tickled pink to major in that or history.
I’d definitely buy an ebook version. The publisher is 5 Stars. I don’t like 5 Stars. They are mainly bought by libraries and their print run is (usually)minuscule while the quality of the physical book is usually not high. However if the book and series garner any interest it’s a good buy for collectors.
I thought The Big Sleep thing was a nice lagniappe.
I can’t answer as to the quality of the hardcover as the one we were provided is essentially a trade paperback. But it’s nicely bound and has a glossy cover. I was impressed with it. After checking Amazon, I see there are already used copies out, though the price isn’t much below what the sale price is for a new book. Does 5 Star ever issues ebooks?
I just ordered this book through the inter-library system. Thanks for the review. I am a big time Falco girl, but am getting into other historical mysteries. Ruth Downie was good. Has anyone read Jane Finnis? She writes about an innkeeper in Britian in 95 A.D. (or sometime close to that date).
Sandy, I hadn’t heard of the Finnis books before checking the Amazon link for Nox Dormienda. One of the Finnis books is listed in the “similar books” sections. This is a good link to a site that lists Historical Mysteries. It doesn’t look like it’s been updated for a while but it’s a nice starting place to learn about lots of different mystery series. Perhaps someone knows of a better listing out there.
Don’t mind me, I’m still pissed off about Perfect Binding– the glued binding that is used for probably close to 100% of the commercially printed books in the US. The Five Star books I have seen (and the one I purchased)had laminate pictorial boards. The dj was good stock paper though.
I’m sure that after Gutenberg’s press came into common use collectors sat around and moaned about how printing was debasing the quality of the book.
Jayne, thanks for the link. I would add to the list Maureen Ash. She has written two mysteries about a knight templar and has a third coming out in March. The titles are “The Alehouse Murders” and “Death of a Squire.”
Glad to hear you were a Classics fan, Jayne, though as a debut author I wouldn’t say that I’m making a living with the degree yet. ;)
As for the e-book version, my agent and I are hoping to see Nox (and the Arcturus series) picked up by a larger publisher, and are thus holding those rights for the present … but I most definitely would like to see at least a Kindle version.
And if anyone is interested in an excellent site/discussion group that lists historical mysteries, try Crime Thru Time.
Thanks again, everyone!
Oh, that’s an excellent site. I’ve already dug around a little and see plenty to check out later. But wait! You’re not listed yet Kelli. That will have to be changed.