Despite endorsements from Gayle Lynds, James Rollins and Ken Bruen, Stanley's debut offers little new that fans of ancient historicals-in particular, the detective series set in Roman Britain of Rosemary Rowe and Ruth Downie-haven't seen before. Julius Alpinus Classicanus Favonianus (aka Arcturus), a doctor whose mixed ancestry gives him insight into both the Romans and the Britons, serves Britannia's governor, Agricola, in first-century London. When a Syrian, Vibius Maecenas, is found with a slit throat in a temple, Arcturus is under intense pressure to solve the case. Maecenas was a messenger from Roman emperor Domitian bearing news threatening Agricola's position. In the end, Arcturus relies on a trick rather than any detecting skills to expose the killer. Readers should be prepared for a routine plot and prose ("They loved one another. Somewhat unusual. Love always is"). (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The life of a medicus-healer-in first-century Londinium could be a dreary round of minor complaints and bad weather. Unless, of course, that healer happens to be a half-Roman, half-British doctor to Agricola, the governor of Britannia. Arcturus is more than a healer, of course-he also solves "problems"-in this case, quite a large and labyrinthine problem. A beautiful woman brings him tidings of a messenger from the emperor who is bringing bad news to Agricola. That messenger-a corpulent Syrian-is soon found dead, his body desecrating a temple to Mithras, the Roman soldier's god, and his message nowhere to be found. Arcturus is under orders from Agricola to find the culprit-fast! If he fails, the result may be full-scale rebellion and the removal of Agricola from power. The novel starts a bit slowly, but the pace soon picks up. The author, with her background in classics and archaeology, has a good sense of time and place. The staccato movement of the narrative is very reminiscent of the hard-boiled detective genre she is trying to reinvent as "Roman noir," but the story itself doesn't come off quite as tough and gritty as such a novel should. Readers who like Roman-era mysteries, like those by Steven Saylor or Ruth Downie (Medicus), may enjoy this. As the series continues, the author may fully realize her vision of Roman noir. Recommended for libraries with large mystery collections, especially those where early-era historical mysteries are popular.
In ancient Londinium, the governor's physician becomes a reluctant sleuth. It's 83 CE and half-Roman, half-Britanni narrator Arcturus is serving as doctor and confidant to Agricola, the province's governor. Arcturus' duties also involve ministering to the locals. On a frigid December morning, the most arresting of Arcturus' many visitors is Claudia Catussa, a tearful beauty who claims she's come to warn Agricola of imminent danger. Vibius Maecenas, a Syrian spy who works for the Roman Emperor Domitian, plans to "harm" Agricola, paving the way for a new governor. Complicating the matter is the fact that Claudia Catussa is affianced to Maecenas. Before Arcturus can question her further, she slips away. Arcturus sends his assistant Bilicho to follow the mysterious woman while he informs the governor. In the meantime, however, someone brutally murders Maecenas, trussing him up like a sacrificial calf. Arcturus determines to solve the crime to prevent suspicion from falling upon the governor in this politically sensitive situation. As the tangled plot leads to additional deaths, Arcturus takes the reader on a colorful tour of this singular culture high and low, from jails and brothels to the corridors of power. First-timer Stanley is sure-footed and enthusiastic about history (as witness her glossary and bibliography) and crafts a satisfyingly intricate puzzle, but her prose could be leaner and her dialogue less ornate. First of a proposed series. ...