Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"The Curse-Maker"

Kelli Stanley is the author of last year's acclaimed City of Dragons.

Her debut book, Nox Dormienda (2008), was a Writer’s Digest Notable Debut, won the Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award and was a Macavity Award finalist.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Curse-Maker, the sequel to Nox Dormienda, and reported the following:
He was a stallion— obviously. He could also smell Nimbus—obviously. She was nickering to him, and when he answered her, everyone in Aquae Sulis could hear what he said.

I strode into the house. “What the hell—”

A tall, hearty looking man of about forty was sitting down, starry-eyed, admiring my wife. Join the goddamn fraternity. Maybe I should put her in the barn with Nimbus.

“Arcturus—I’m so glad you’re home. This is Gaius Secundus. The duovir of Aquae Sulis.”

Of course. How could I forget there were two of the bastards?

I tried not to ask him what the hell he was doing with a stallion in my garden. I said: “We’ve already met Grattius.”

A look of distaste crossed his face. At least that was something in his favor.

“Well, Grattius and I run the town together, though we don’t always see eye to eye. I’d heard you were here, and thought you might want to come to dinner tomorrow.”

I glanced down at Gwyna, who smiled bewitchingly. “Of course. We’d love to. Thanks for asking.” Another neigh nearly shattered a glass.

“Is that your horse?”

“Noble beast, isn’t he? I understand you have a mixed Libyan breed yourself, a little gray mare.”

Ah. The horsey set. “Nimbus used to be a courier horse.”

“Fast devils. Good endurance, too.” He stood up. “Well, glad you can come. Not a lot to do in Aquae Sulis if you’re not infirm. Got a theater, of course— the wife and I are avid for theatricals. No arena yet. Hopefully, that’ll come. We could use a good gladiator show— liven things up a bit— but first things first. What we need is a good track. Run some fast circus breeds, have a little racing farm.” He clapped me on the back. “Always glad to meet a fellow who knows horses.”

I escorted him out, to make sure he left. Then made sure no one else was waiting around to make love to my wife.
Page 69 is all about Arcturus. He’s just returned home from a long and disquieting day fact-finding—for a case he didn’t want to take on. He detests the provincial atmosphere and Babbitt-like social climbers he’s encountered in Aquae Sulis (Bath), and has agreed to solve the murder of Rufus Bibax (the eponymous curse-maker) only because it’ll make Gwyna happy … and his desire to please his wife is obvious. He’s insecure, possessive, stressed, and frustrated—after all, he’s the governor’s doctor, a talented healer, and still he can’t figure out what’s wrong with his wife.

The Curse-Maker was inspired by a number of things: my own research as a classics scholar on curses and how they operated; the Hammett novels Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, and The Thin Man, as well as Chandler’s unfinished concept of Poodle Springs (later completed by the great Robert B. Parker); and a desire to write about ancient history in a way that makes it seem contemporary and important and vibrant and real. The book follows up  Nox Dormienda, my debut novel and the 2008 winner of the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery award.

The Curse-Maker winds through underground water tunnels, sleazy taverns, a cemetery and a lead mine, several murders and Roman beliefs in the supernatural … from necromancy (the raising of the dead) to curses to ghosts. Arcturus battles the sideshow atmosphere of the spa town head-on , sorting out the charlatans, the phony healers preying on the sick, and others who would take advantage of the weak and desperate.

Lighter in tone than my 1940 San Francisco series (City of Dragons)—Arcturus tends to use sarcasm as a coping device—The Curse-Maker is actually a relaunch of “Roman noir”, a playful homage to my favorite genre of mystery and film. Nox Dormienda is currently out-of-print, so consider The Curse-Maker a series re-boot.

So does Nimbus get pregnant? She’s not telling …
Read an excerpt from The Curse-Maker, and learn more about the novel and author at Kelli Stanley's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Nox Dormienda.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue