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Roman Whodunnit with a Difference
on 28 August 2010
I have always been an afficionado of detective and adventure stories in a Roman setting, starting with Lindsay Davis and David Wishart and moving on to include Rosemary Rowe, Marilyn Todd, Steven Saylor, John Maddox Roberts and Simon Scarrow, so the arrival of a new author in the field aroused my cautious interest. I welcomed Ms Downie's first book in the series, Ruso and the Disapperaring Dancing Girls, with pleasure but some reserve. It had a wry quiet humour running through it, and was certainly a pleasure to read. However, Ruso never quite became a real person to me, (probably due to a lack of imagination on my part) and I couldn't quite see how the saga could progress. That changed with the arrival of Ruso and the Demented Doctor, when to me, at least, Ruso became a definite individual whose problems you could appreciate and whose actions elicited an emotive response, be it either approval or dismay. By this time I was definitely looking forward to the third book in the series, so when Ruso and the Root of all Evils arrived I grabbed it eagerly and was not disappointed. To speak of this series as "Roman" is perhaps a shade misleading, as the action of the first two books takes place in Roman Britain, and the third in Ruso's home country of Gaul. However, the setting is less important than the characters, and the latter are beautifully drawn. Ruso comes through a a conscientious, caring and competent but slightly bewildered individual, doing his best to survive in a difficult world. Equally delightful is Tilla, his slave/housekeeper/mistress/potential wife who is tribal British and fiercely independant - standing no nonsense from either Ruso or anyone else. The result is pure pleasure. There are no dramatic cliff-hanging episodes, but plenty of adventure, and the joy of seeing two likeable characters (Ruso and Tilla) doing their best to survive and prosper in a frequently hostile environment. The fourth book can't come soon enough for me!