Roman Britain, Bath, Aquae Sulis where the goddess sends forth warm, healing waters. Our sleuth, former legionary and doctor Arcturus, whom readers met in Stanley’s award-winning Nox Dormienda, and his lovely wife Gwyna are having marital problems Arcturus is helpless to explain. They travel from their home in Londinium to Aquae Sulis for a vacation. They haven’t even descended from their horses when they are greeted by a body floating in the curative waters – quite dead. The chase is afoot.
PR material makes no secret that The Curse-Maker is Hammett’s Red Harvest, a tale of Western U.S. small-town corruption “in an ancient setting,” a “Roman noir.” I cannot agree that this is as dark or as powerful as Hammett’s 1929 classic. Sympathetic women and their problems, for one thing, will make this more palatable for the female pleasure reader. Hammett’s hard-boiled language often scalds, and Stanley’s voice does not reach his levels. Some gaps in logic, too, seem to have been created by cutting to attain a publisher’s word limit. But reaching for the classic (in both the 1929 and 1st-century senses) works well in other ways. We’re treated to riveting, spot-on images page after page by an author who clearly knows her stuff.