Monday, October 27, 2014

Persona Non Grata by Ruth Downie

Persona Non Grata: ANovel of the Roman Empire by Ruth Downie --- 348 pages

Third novel in Ruth Downie's entertaining series of historical mysteries set on the frontier of the declining Roman Empire during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian.

Gaius Ruso works as a contract medicus or doctor for the Twentieth Legion in the wilds of Britannia, so he can send money home to his family in southern Gaul to pay off the mountain of debts left behind by his late father. One day he receives a terse message from his brother Lucius, demanding his immediate return home. So Ruso wrangles several months of emergency leave and sets off for Nemausus, accompanied by his British housekeeper (and lover) Tilla (Darlughdacha of the Corionotatae of the Brigantes).

But when he arrives home Ruso is greeted not with relief but with consternation --- it seems that Lucius not only did not summon him but in actuality Ruso's presence is likely to make a bad situation worse. There is an arcane Roman law that says a Roman citizen engaged on public service in a foreign country cannot be sued for debts at home. Furthermore, despite his best intentions, Ruso has never quite gotten around to breaking the news to his family that he has acquired a British (barbarian) companion. And his stepmother is convinced that the best way to solve the family's financial problems is for Ruso to immediately marry the wealthy widow next door.

But that's only the beginning of Ruso's woes. It turns out that the family's chief creditor and instigator of the suit that is threatening them with ruin, a weasel-faced fellow called Serverus, is also the less than desirable second husband of Ruso's ex-wife Claudia.  Serverus arrives on Ruso's doorstep to discuss a settlement, only to collapse, declaring that he has been poisoned. In order to protect himself and his family from ruin, Ruso needs to figure out who murdered Severus and more importantly, why.

Meanwhile Tilla is feeling lonely and a little lost, far from her own people and country, and not very welcomed by Ruso's relations, who look down their noses at the barbarian. When one of the household slaves is kind to her, Tilla goes off at Galla's invitation to meet her "family," and has her first encounter with the followers of Christos.

The plot also includes a lovelorn gladiator and the hot pursuit of a couple of villains through the catacombs of the local amphitheater in the middle of gladiatorial games. Downie gets better with every book.

Click HERE and HERE for two reviews of Persona Non Grata.

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