cover image The Curse-Maker

The Curse-Maker

Kelli Stanley, Minotaur, $24.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-312-65419-1

A murder interrupts the holiday of Arcturus, the Roman governor's doctor and sometime sleuth, in Stanley's well-plotted second novel set in Britain during the reign of Domitian (after 2008's Nox Dormeinda, winner of the Bruce Alexander Award for Best Historical Mystery). When the strangled body of Rufus Bibax, a scribe who made his living writing curses, surfaces in a reservoir in Aquae Sulis (today's Bath), his mouth is stuffed with a piece of lead on which is inscribed Ultor ("The Avenger"). The physician learns of earlier mysterious deaths, which may be connected with the legend of a nearby mine. More murders, possibly by a copycat, follow. The author, as she explains in a note, has imaginatively reconstructed how curses might have been used in Roman society. Some may find the language too modern sounding ("Logically, she was right—but goddamn it, I wasn't logical"), but all will wish this historical series a long life. (Feb.)