The third installment to Downie's Roman Empire series-the second-century saga of a witty and courageous army surgeon, Gaius Ruso, and his smart and loyal lover, Tilla, a barbarian woman from Britannia-continues in gripping fashion. Ruso returns to his family home in southern Gaul, summoned by a forged letter pleading for his immediate return. Once Ruso and Tilla return, Ruso is thrust into a dangerous quagmire involving a missing ship, huge family debts and, before long, the murder of the family's principal creditor-a crafty phony named Severus-who is poisoned in Ruso's home. While Ruso and his family are quickly suspected of the murder, Ruso and Tilla's attempts to solve the crime are hampered by interfering family members, a lying politician, a greedy banker and a pair of too-eager investigators sent from Rome. Ruso and Tilla must also deal with prejudice, envy and a new religion, Christianity. The plotting is clever and suspenseful, with subtle clues and lots of action, while the setting and supporting cast are vividly drawn. This is solid entertainment, nicely done. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
For years, Ruso has served as a medical officer in the army of the Roman Empire, but a broken foot and a cryptic message, "Come home," have sent him hobbling back to Gaul on extended medical leave. Accompanying him is Tilla, his Briton-born, barbarian companion. Even though he knew that his family was in dire straits financially, Ruso hadn't anticipated the absolute chaos awaiting him-the vineyards are falling into ruin and facing foreclosure, his sisters are dowerless, the family gives Tilla a chilly reception while plotting to marry Ruso off to the wealthy widow living next door, and his first wife's new husband is fatally poisoned. Unfortunately, Ruso is the only witness to the poisoning, and the victim is the family's chief creditor, which puts Ruso in the awkward position of being both criminal investigator and primary suspect. This lively sequel to Medicus and Terra Incognita continues Downie's delightful historical series. Her characters are wonderfully memorable, particularly the dry and acerbic Ruso, whose internal dialog provides some genuinely funny laugh-out-loud moments despite shipwrecks, ex-wives, gruesome gladiatorial games, unruly children, family discord, and, of course, mayhem and murder. Highly recommended.
Jane Henriksen Baird
A third deftly plotted puzzler starring Roman battlefield physician Gaius Petreius Ruso and his former house servant-and present lover-Tilla (Terra Incognita, 2008, etc.). The body count is small, but the intrigue is thick and suitably baffling as the action moves from Roman-occupied Britain to the home front in Gaul, to which Ruso is unexpectedly summoned by his endlessly demanding family. A letter supposedly sent by his curmudgeonly brother Lucius informs the medicus, who's recuperating from an accidental injury, that his relatives are suspects in the presumed murder of Severus, the greedy creditor who was threatening to bust their assets. Astutely misdirecting us, Downie opens with a scene set aboard a burning merchant ship, on which Ruso's brother-in-law Justinus is held captive. Then the scene shifts to Ruso's homecoming, accompanied by Tilla, and the resumption of frayed relations with his snotty stepmother Arria, various half-sisters and other family and their ubiquitous naked toddlers, a wily senator (Fuscus) intent on turning the Rusos' new ill-fame to his advantage, a lovesick gladiator (Tertius) and Gaius' combative ex Claudia, more recently Severus' spouse and possibly "the bitch" identified as his poisoner by the deceased's final words. Nobody seems upset that Severus has been iced, but crisscrossing investigations produce ever more embarrassing disclosures as the mayhem evolves into something very like an extended episode of Everybody Loves Raymond with togas and guest appearances by the Marx brothers. Ruso's sullen wit is dependably delightful ("the beheading of unruly relatives seemed a little harsh, but obviously one would exercise discretion"). And when the unquenchablycurious Tilla encounters acolytes of the odd new faith called Christianity, we know Downie is sharpening her knives for Ruso's next surgically precise adventure. Enormous fun: another lively winner from a newly established mistress of the genre.
From the Publisher
"Persona Non Grata brims with the complex characters and rich detail that have made this series a must for period mystery buffs." Booklist