Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Caveat Emptor - Ruth Downie

    2011; 336 pages.  Book #4 (out of 6) of the Medicus series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Historical Fiction; Murder-Mystery.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    The Roman tax collector assigned to the city of Verulamium has gone missing.  Well, that’s nothing to get excited about, since Roman tax collectors aren’t very popular, even amongst the Romans.

    But the yearly tax revenues from Verulamium disappeared with the collector, and that does make the case important.  The Romans in Londinium need to find someone to conduct an investigation.  But who?

    Well, Gaius Petreius Ruso has just returned to Londinium from Gaul.  He’d like to find a job as a medicus (doctor).  But he has a history as a reluctant (and politically naïve) investigator.

    Let’s send him!  Just so long as he keeps the priorities in order.  It’s the money that matters.  Not the tax collector.

What’s To Like...
    Caveat Emptor is the third book I’ve read in this series (the others are reviewed here and here), and is frankly my favorite one so far.  The Historical Fiction aspect seemed to be more deeply researched, especially the particulars about Verulamium.  And the Mystery aspect felt more satisfying as well: it was less arbitrary and more logical. 

    Valens is back, a bit more wise to the world, but with a serious personal issue.  Tilla is sometimes a real help in investigating the case, and sometimes quite the hindrance.  And Ruso is, well, still Ruso.  His doggedness at solving the case is inversely proportional to his slowness at grasping the political nuances of the Roman army  and government.  And he and Valens seem to be equally clueless when it comes to women. 

    There is a Cast of Characters at the beginning which once again came in quite handy.  The chapters are short, which made finding a place to stop for the night a breeze.  And the mystery itself starts up almost immediately.

    This time around, telling the good guys from the bad guys was quite the challenge, and I really liked that.  Ruso's investigation has its fair share of unexpected turns, and everything builds to a nice, twisty ending.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Dinning (v.)  :  making someone learn or remember something by constant repetition.

    The books said that the Iceni had been crushed years ago, but this one did not look crushed.  This one looked tall and fierce and none too clean: exactly how he imagined the raging queen Boudica at the head of her savage hordes.
    When future histories were written about Britannia, Firmus did not want to appear in them as the man who had been fool enough to upset the Iceni again.  (pg. 3)

    “What are you doing in her house?”
    “Princess of the Iceni, eh?”
    Tilla raised her knife to suggest a little more respect.
    The man lifted his hands into the air and backed away in mock alarm.  “It’s all right,” he assured her.  “There’s no need for that.”
    “You can explain to her.  And to the guards.”
    The man lowered his hands.  His grin revealed dimples and even white teeth.  “I’m the captain of the guards, miss.  Put that knife away, or I’ll have to report us both to myself.”  (pg. 122)

 “We caught a sheep stealer last night, so there’s a flogging to organize.”  (pg.  206)
    Once again, there are some anachronistic candles, and the dialogue still grates on my literary nerve, what with modern-day Englishisms such as “ain’t” and “boss”.  But I have to admit that one “mistake” I thought I caught – the use of an abacus – turned out to be correct. The Romans really did have such a device in use by the time of Caveat Emptor.

    I’ve made my peace with this series.  It seems to me that Ruth Downie doesn’t intend it to be as serious as, say, the HF-MM works of Ellis Peters or Steven Saylor.  Instead, she instills a deliberate “lightness” to the story, evidenced by a subtle drizzling of humor throughout the book.  It kind of reminds me of an old TV series, Columbo.  Not particularly believable, but extremely entertaining.

    8½ StarsCaveat Emptor, and the Medicus series as a whole, may not be 100% historically accurate, but they are colorfully delightful to read.

No comments: