Review of Persona Non Grata by Ruth Downie
Overview from www.barnesandnoble.com: "When a mysterious note arrives in the mail consisting only of the words "come home," Gaius Petreius Ruso is forced to give up his career as a military doctor in Britannia and head back to his family in Gaul." "But all is not well on the home front. No one will admit to having sent for him, and his companion Tilla is neither expected nor welcome. With the family teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and the town's leading politician, Gabinius Fuscus, breathing down his neck, it's hard to imagine an unhappier reunion. That is, until Severus, the family's chief creditor, winds up dead, and the real trouble begins." Plunged unwillingly into the investigation, and struggling to help his family's financial situation, Ruso is entrusted with the welfare of the household. But no one seems able to stop meddling in his affairs, and with the pressure mounting, Ruso will have to count on his wits, his girlfriend, and perhaps - for once in his life - a little good fortune.
This week’s story takes us back all the way to the Roman Empire during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. It is a murder mystery with a doctor in the Legion stationed in Britannia as the protagonist and detective. Ruso is his name.
His partner in crime solving is a young British lady named Tilla. I wasn’t exactly clear on their relationship but we are told that at some point Ruso bought Tilla from some other owner yet she seems remarkably independent for a slave, even at one point during the novel, leaving to go off with a stranger so I am guessing that she might no longer be a slave to him or at least a slave who is given a lot of freedom. She still refers to him as “Medicus.”
Our story opens with Ruso hurting his leg in attempt to save a young local boy. Right after that, he receives a mysterious letter, presumably from his brother that simply reads, “Urgent. Come home.”
He manages to get leave to do just that. But that’s when his real troubles begin.
He finds his family deep in debt, a debt that is likely to go to court and prove the ruin of them all. While his brother Lucius denies having ever sent the message and to top it off the guy he owes money to (Severus) dies from an apparent poisoning. His last words are, “The b***** has poisoned me.”
Ruso suspects that the woman Severus is referring to is his wife, Ruso’s ex, Claudia but who will believe him. He owed the man a lot of money and the fact that they were reaching an agreement to settle the debt before it went to court was a moot point since there were no witnesses to their conversation. Now he must find the killer on his own before the inevitable investigator arrives from Rome and his convicted of murder.
The verdict on this one is overwhelmingly positive. I like the main characters, both Tilla and Ruso. I am now hoping to go back and read the first two books so that I can discover how they met and learn more about the nature of their relationship. I did have a little bit of difficulty with Marcia, Ruso’s spoiled sister but I did like the way he handled her which made him all the more likeable to me.
The reference to the followers of Christos and his teaches as well as the popular misconceptions Romans of this time period had about Christianity were intriguing. All in all, I think the authors’ coverage of this religion was more than fair.
I also found the story itself compelling. I always wondered how they would have investigated a crime like this during the Roman period. And having the would-be detective as a suspect made his motivation to find the killer seem all the more believable.
Contains: some foul language