(A Long Night for Sleeping)
Winner, Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award
Finalist, Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery
Certificate of Honor from the City & County of San Francisco
“In NOX DORMIENDA, Kelli Stanley has created a startling new genre of mystery: the Roman noir. Written in a fresh and uncompromising voice, here is a novel as evocative of ancient times as it is masterful in crafting a mystery as entangled and ingenious as any modern story.
I look forward to vanishing again into the world she has created. Don’t miss your chance to do the same.”
“NOX DORMIENDA (A LONG NIGHT FOR SLEEPING) nigh cost me a night’s sleep! A Roman noir … and with a depth of scholarship that should be off-putting but works beautifully. The language is a sheer treasure.
From classical to sheer class and for a book that is so meticulously researched, it has a wild and wondrous sense of humour. What a series this is going to be! Imagine Ellis Peters re-written by Elmore Leonard and you’ll have some notion of this gem of a novel—and it moves like a gladiator on speed.”
“… chock full of chills, thrills, and breath-taking adventure. Fueled by fascinating characters and rich details from Londinium in 83 A.D., this unforgettable tale brings the past eerily alive while leaving you hungering for the next book in what surely will be an exciting series. Stanley is a terrific writer.”
Saturnalia is almost over, but drunks and gamblers aren’t the only denizens of Londinium knocking on the doctor’s door. The winter of 836 a.u.c. (83 A.D.) is cold and bitter. The year’s final exhale will prove to be colder still.
Arcturus—the half-native, half-Roman doctor and occasional problem-solver—has seen much in his thirty-three years. He’s risen—despite not playing the politics game. He is Agricola’s doctor. And Agricola’s friend. And Agricola is the governor of Britannia.
Now, on a frozen December afternoon, he learns the governor is in trouble. The Emperor Domitian has sent a spy to Britannia—a spy carrying papers demanding Agricola’s resignation. It doesn’t make Arcturus any warmer to know that the spy, a Syrian named Vibius Maecenas, is betrothed to the woman who brings him the story. The woman—Gwyna—is as unforgettable as her information.
When Arcturus sends his freedman Bilicho to follow her, he finds himself, hours later, in an underground temple, staring at a shapeless hulk on top the altar. It’s the trussed, dead body of Maecenas, with a gaping hole in place of a throat.
If Arcturus doesn’t find out who murdered him and why, Domitian might think the governor is responsible. The fat, dead Syrian will ignite a civil war, one hot enough to thaw the ice in frozen Britannia.
He has seven days to unravel fact from story, truth from rumor, and motive from murder. He must walk a carnival landscape of fear and uncertainty, strewn with sadistic pimps, drunken whores, well-bred politicians and four more deaths. He’s unsure of everything: how much he can trust Gwyna, how much he can trust the governor, and especially how much he can trust himself.
NOX DORMIENDA is a lighting-paced mystery that blends hard-boiled prose and impeccably researched historical background. The book will sting your senses into a visceral past: you’ll hear the crunch of ice on a muddy Roman road, smell the stench of a cheap whorehouse, and down a tired swallow of sun-warmed wine. It is the first novel of a new series and a new genre of mystery fiction: it is Roman Noir.
“… 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 … and crafts a satisfyingly intricate puzzle …”
“Arcturus is a unique protagonist; a private eye in a toga, wisecracking monologues to boot. This era, with its smells, sounds and the language, comes alive in the noir world of NOX DORMIENDA. I look forward to the next in the series. Highly recommended.”
Tess Allegra, Historical Novels Review
“How do you say wondrous in Latin? I wish I knew so I could pay the proper homage to Kelli Stanley’s first in what I hope will be a long series. From the partridge eggs for breakfast to the temples with marble columns, Stanley plunges the reader into the world of Roman noir with a novel set in first century AD Londinium. … Stanley has deftly crafted an excellent historical whodunit, filled with fascinating secondary characters and enough intrigue to keep you turning page after page until the satisfying conclusion. Fans of this style of mystery will be anxiously awaiting Arcturus’ next adventure.”
Lisa Respers France, BookLoons
‘The Roman conquest of Britain continues to interest writers, and Stanley has come up with a different angle, focusing on Arcturus, a half-British, half-Roman doctor who is the physician of Agricola, the provincial governor. A Syrian spy, widely believed to be carrying a message terminating Agricola’s tenure, is found dead. But where is the message? And why was he carrying all this money?
There’s lots of action, with threads involving Arcturus’ servant, the spy’s reluctant fiancee, a badly run brothel and the secret lives of those who follow the “old” (Druidic) religion. There’s also plenty of blood, cruelty and political machination in this well-done story that will keep the reader guessing for many chapters.”
Roberta Alexander, Contra Costa Times/San Jose Mercury News
“… 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” …”
Phillip Marlowe and John Rebus have a new cousin … who speaks Latin.
John Leech, Mystery News (3 quills)
“This mystery novel is full of well developed characters and has an intriguing plot. The setting of Roman Britain is so masterfully crafted that it is obvious the author has immersed herself in it. You can feel the mud and the dreary rain and see the gray mist that covers the Londinium of the time. I loved the inclusion of the excellent glossary in the back which included every Latin and Celtic word used in the book. In her author’s note, Ms. Stanley explains that she is a fan of Noir films and the classic private eye stories of Raymond Chandler. That is certainly apparent in this engrossing mystery. Some of the snappy language was hilarious and the whole time I was reading it I kept seeing Humphrey Bogart in his overcoat (make that a toga) and hearing Dick Tracy in my ear. It was a vivid, exciting, hard-boiled mystery with a bit of fun thrown in!”
Carey Anderson, BlogCritics, Tome Traveller’s Weblog
“Kelli Stanley’s first novel is a noir-flavored murder mystery set in Roman-occupied Britain in 83 A.D. Cast in the role of the hard-boiled detective is Arcturus, the personal physician of Agricola, the Roman governor of Britannia. The governor is an actual historical figure, one of several popping up in the course of the novel. Arcturus, on the other hand, is a fictitious creation, a doctor whose forensic skills involve him in affairs beyond his examining room. To the author’s credit, historical and fictional characters alike come alive, with character development and the plot receiving equal attention.”
Po Wong, Book Ideas ( four stars)
Kelli reads Chapter One of NOX DORMIENDA
Kelli reads the opening chapter, which finds Arcturus and Bilicho awaiting clients with hangovers on a dreary winter afternoon. Instead, in walks a beautiful blonde …
Map of Arcturus’ Londinium, with locations of events in NOX DORMIENDA marked.
“Never heard of Roman Noir? Well, you have now. Kelli Stanley, academic scholar and admitted noir fan, bursts onto the scene this summer with the first installment of her historical noir series … Stanley combines classic noir and mystery elements with expansive research into first century Roman Britain. Her efforts pay off. It’s a combination that really works quite well.”
Becky Lejeune, Bookbitch, No More Grumpy Bookseller
“…I felt like I had bought a ticket to see Gladiator but made a wrong turn inside the cineplex and stumbled into Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.
But as the novel progressed and I got to know the interesting cast of characters, especially the quirky half-Roman, half-Britain medicus who could be gently caressing a puppy one minute and groping in the abdomen of a nearly eviscerated legionary the next, I succumbed to this author’s efforts to conjure up a unique view of ancient Rome and began to enjoy the bumpy ride as Stanley’s protagonist tugged me through Londonium’s back streets, down into a mithraeum, up the back stairs of a seedy brothel, then into the provincial governor’s palace where a weary Agricola, one of Domitian’s most successful and honored generals, brooded over rumors of his pending dismissal as he realized his old soldier’s boots may not be the best footwear to navigate the tightrope of imperial politics.
I think what I enjoyed most was becoming an invisible member of the raucous household of Julius Alpinus Classicianus Favonianus (that’s Arcturus to you natives or Ardur to any rheumy-eyed Trinovantean females) whose members so eagerly attempted to assist the Dominus in his investigations …”
Mary Harrsch, Roman Times
“Kelli Stanley skillfully introduces readers to Roman Britain noir in NOX DORMIENDA. A credible mystery, a touching love story, sufficient suspense to keep the reader invested and eager to discern the guilty—and to discover whether or not the innocent will be spared from paying—all steeped in authenticity and a love for history that bodes well for the successful launch of a splendid, informative and entertaining series. Praeclarus nixus!”
“… fans of ancient historical mysteries will enjoy this entertaining Britannia Noir as Arcturus escorts the audience to places not normally found in Roman Empire whodunits … The story line is fast-paced from the moment the soldiers take the lead character to the crime scene and never slows down … NOX DORMIENDA is an enjoyable first century amateur sleuth.”
“If Raymond Chandler and Lindsey Davis collaborated on a book, this would be it …. The mystery is well-paced and kept me guessing right up to the end. Kelli Stanley brings Roman London to life with her vivid descriptions of life at the time, and I enjoyed the liberal peppering of Latin phrases throughout. Normally, I cringe when I see a glossary at the back of a novel, but in this case it provided a fun glimpse into Roman legal terms as well as the everyday vernacular of the folks on the street.
Arcturus is witty and stubborn to a fault, and he makes a likable, realistically flawed protagonist. I hope this first book in Kelli’s projected series is a great success, because I certainly want to hear more from Arcturus!”
Lynn Reynolds, Library Thing
“Stanley has given us a rich tapestry of a world with depth of color and detail that makes the Londinium of 83 A.D. come alive. Each character has a backstory that comes out naturally in the narrative. The plotting is tight and with enough twists and turns to keep a reader interested. As a classicist, Stanley has used her knowledge of historical societies and culture to help pull the reader in and keep them in this ancient world of political power plays. There’s also a glossary of Latin words and phrases used in the book as well as a list of references. I often pick up bits of historical information, and this one lets me peek into the windows to see how the people of this time lived. Readers of noir mysteries and of historical mysteries should find much to like in this, the first book of the Arcturus mysteries. Maledictus, the second book in the series is in the works, and I for one look forward to more adventures with Arcturus.”
Gayle Surrette, Gumshoe Review
Available in Greek and Italian!
The Greek version of NOX DORMIENDA, entitled Murder in Roman Londinium, is available as a paperback from Periplous.
The Italian edition, published by Mondadori, is part of the venerable and famous “giallo” line of mystery fiction.
A pyxis is a storage compartment for cosmetics, drugs and other things.
It’s also the name of Arcturus’ dog. But that’s another story.
Consider this a peek into Arcturus’ private stores of medicine—mostly herbal.
Given the frequency of concussion in the investigation business, Arcturus favors particular herbs over others. Here’s one that is still widely used as a beneficial sleep-aid supplement in many countries.
Valerian and its relatives are native to Britain and most of Europe. Though Dioscorides (c.40-90 AD) didn’t know it by that name—he would recognize it as “nard” or “phou”—one or more varieties of the plant had long been used in medicines, perfumes and cosmetics throughout the Greco-Roman world before the great herbalist (and one of Arcturus’ teachers) wrote his De Materia Medica.
A hardy perennial, valerian is a green and leafy plant, with dense heads of small white or pink flowers that bloom from June through September. It is aromatic, with a pungent, sweet smell, and grows in wet or dry soil.
The root is the part used in medicine; Dioscorides recommended it as a poison antidote, a deodorant, a gastric soother of flatulence, and as an ointment base. Arcturus keeps it on hand for sleeplessness and as a sedative, which is how it has been most commonly used for centuries. He prefers to stew dried shavings of the root in a weak mixture of warm wine and water.
Valerian also exerts a peculiar fascination over felines, similar to catnip. Their attraction to it was exploited by Agatha Christie in Five Little Pigs (Murder in Retrospect). In another Christie connection, valerian was the sleeping draught imbibed by Richard Widmark in the film version of Murder on the Orient Express. Rats are also attracted to its smell.
The name of the herb derives from valere, the Latin word for “flourish, be strong, be healthy.” The imperatives vale (singular) or valete (plural) mean “goodbye,” as well as an exhortation to “fare thee well.” Officinalis is a late Latin word derived from officina (itself a contracted form of the early opificina), a noun for a workshop or laboratory.
Valerian makes an appearance in NOX DORMIENDA … watch for it.
Medicine was not a high status profession in ancient Rome. Many of the practitioners were former Greek slaves, trading on a reputation for Greek skill that they unfortunately did not possess.
As Martial points out, they didn’t last too long in the profession.
Nuper erat medicus, nunc est vsipillo Diaulus:
Quod vispillo facit, fecerat et medicus
Recently, Diaulus was a doctor. Now he is an undertaker.
What he does as an undertaker, he used to do as a doctor. (Martial, 1.47)
Cooking with Venutius
Arcturus’ cook Venutius is adventurous … as all good cooks are, despite Arcturus’ protestations to the contrary.
Below, Venutius shares one of his many recipes. Try it if you like … but beware of the garum.
Beet Soup àla Varro (and Venutius)
I am to provide you with some recipes. I am a chef; I do not record what I create. But I will do my best from memory. And if you fail the first time, do not despair. Many do not have the gift. A word of caution—the Dominus—he insists on plain food. I am a slave, so I do what I am told. But I tell you this: he is no Gaul.
Boil until soft a few clean, dark beets with the greens, in water, wine and honey, mixed with a few spoonfuls of olive oil and sea salt. If you do this correctly, the pot will yield a flavorful broth. While the beet is softening, you may add some capon wings or legs for more taste (and, the Master tells me, for a more healthful benefit).
You can make much soup with a few small beets, especially if you add barley and cabbage. The Master isn’t fond of cabbage, but he never knows it is there.
The soup is best served with a crusty bread, salty cow-milk cheese (no sheep!) and green olives steeped in vinegar. Boiled eggs, seasoned with a mixture of minced garlic, olive oil, pepper and chopped leeks, make an excellent additional course …especially if you sprinkle a little garum—fish sauce—over the eggs. No one need know, you understand, but you will receive many compliments on your cooking.
For something sweet, there should be honeyed dates stuffed with walnuts, dried figs and fresh pears.
Venutius’ favorite condiment was a staple across the Roman world, carried with the army into climes and cultures far removed from northern Italy.
Made of salt and fish and sea life—all kinds of sea life—garum was a chief export of many coastal cities across the Empire. Pompeii was a prime producer until Vesuvius erupted in 79 C.E.
Garum was fermented, like the more innocuous soy sauce, and came in grades, like cuts of meat. The poor, as always, relied on the most “fishy” of varieties; the nobility could enjoy more sophisticated versions that fetched a pretty denarius on the open market.
Pliny the Elder wrote about garum before he was killed in the cataclysm of Pompeii, and Apicius mentions it in many of his recipes. Arcturus’ distaste for it reveals his native British culinary tastes.
Latin with Bilicho
If you’re interested in Latin, you’re in the right place. Bilicho will explain what declensions are, how to conjugate a verb, and why nox dormienda means “a long night for sleeping.”
Study Latin with Bilicho. Remember: Fortes fortuna iuvat.
Bilicho Docet Linguam Latinam
I. Nox Dormienda
So you made the wise decision to learn a little Latin. Good. You won’t regret it.
I’m not a native speaker, and what that means is I’ve had to learn it—so I understand how it works a little better than some who are. Mind you, I’m no orator or proper magister (that’s teacher to you), but I know my way around the language, and you won’t get lost if you follow me. No matter what Arcturus says.
All right, then. We’re not going to start with the children’s stuff, all that amo amas amat. Let’s begin with a quick look at one of the language’s finest points: brevity. And don’t listen to what Arcturus says about that, either. From the way he goes on, you’d think I never get to the point. I like a good story, I like to tell a good story, and he’s lucky I can, since it’s saved his head from being cracked by a club more than once … where was I? Oh, yes. The Passive Periphrastic. It’s also known as the gerundive of obligation, but I like the PP better—more poetical somehow.
Anyway, here’s how it works. Let’s take two words—nox and dormienda. All right.
Now, nox is a noun. It means “night.” What else can we tell about it? Well, because Latin nouns change forms depending on other information like number (singular or plural), how the word is used (subject or object of sentence, etc.), and the gender of the word—
What? A language with no gender? How can you—well, never mind. To each his own. Anyway, Latin nouns all have gender, either masculine, feminine or neuter. Like I said, to each his own.
Nox is a feminine word. It’s also singular, and it’s in the nominative case, which means it’s the subject of a sentence. Don’t worry about the terms, just understand that we get all this information from the way it looks. Not always the situation when you’re choosing a woman in a taberna.
Anyway, that’s nox. What about dormienda? Well, that’s a kind of verbal word. You take a verb, like dormire—means to sleep. You do some things to it, and you turn it into a gerundive. Gerundives are passive in voice—you can’t say “The man bit some bread”—probably week-old bread, at that—with a gerundive. You can say “The bread was bitten by a man.” See the difference?
So with dormienda, we’re talking about something that can be slept, and I don’t mean “with”—no prepositions for this meaning.
We team the gerundive up with nox, and that gives us what is being slept—a night. (By the way, there’s an “a” at the end of dormienda because nox is a feminine word. That’s for you quick learners.) When you throw in a “to be” verb (is, am, are, were, etc.), you get the passive periphrastic construction. A night being slept.
Now, the passive periphrastic does something special for us: it tells us that this is an action that has to be done. Obligation, necessity. I know all about that—don’t forget, I was a slave for most of my life.
But wait, Bilicho, you say. Where’s the “to be” verb? Where’s the third word? And that’s where Latin gets tricky, and why you can trust it about as much as you can taberna lighting. “To be” is understood to be there, and sometimes is, but gets left out pretty often because everyone who knows Latin knows it’s understood to be there. To bad for you if no one tells you—that’s why I’m telling you now.
Crabby old Cato hobbled around the Senate screaming “Carthago delenda est!” (Carthage must be destroyed) over and over until they razed the city just to shut him up. Est is the “to be” verb. Nox dormienda comes from one of those sickening love poems Arcturus read when he was younger, and because it’s poetry—and poets like to break rules, Catullus more than any of them—the est gets left out.
So what do we have? Nox dormienda. A night that must be slept. A long night for sleeping. Death, all made up and poetical.
See what I mean? Brevity. That’s what you can learn from Latin. I know I have.