Monday, May 18, 2015

Persona Non Grata - Ruth Downie

    2009; 400 pages.  Book #3 (out of 6) of the Medicus series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Historical Fiction; Crime Mystery.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    “Lucius to Gaius. Come home, brother!”

    Well, Gaius Petreius Ruso would like to oblige, but he’s a member of a Roman legion in Britain, and all his relatives are in Gaul.  And the army doesn’t give am open-ended leave of absence just because your brother summons you.

    But when Ruso breaks his foot, an extended convalescence is needed anyway, so it’s an opportunity for him to make the long, arduous journey back to his home.  He can even take Tilla along, after all, she’s his wif.., his girlfr…, his serv…, well his companion of uncertain relationship.  Yeah, the family’s gonna love meeting a barbarian.

    So imagine his confusion when, upon his arrival, Lucius wants to know why he chose to return home now, and that the timing could not have been worse.

What’s To Like...
    The setting of Gaul for Persona Non Grata is unique.  All of the other books in the series (thus far) are set in various parts of Britannia.  The book is also unique in that, based on the evidence, Ruso is a prime suspect in the murder.  And if the investigators sent from Rome can’t determine the real killer, they’ll settle for arresting a convenient suspect, like Ruso), quickly followed by execution.  Roman justice is funny that way.

   Since we’re not in Britain (except for the very beginning), almost all the characters are new to the series.  Ruso and Tilla are the only familiar faces, but it’s fun to meet the rest of his family.  Up till now, we’ve only heard about them through letters from home.

    As always, Ruth Downie smoothly combines Historical Fiction with Murder Mystery.  There are the usual anachronisms (ladies’ underwear) and modern-day slang (“Bollocks” and “Blondie), but I’ve learned to accept that.  The murder doesn’t take place until 26%, but it is well-crafted, with lots of suspects, several twists, and a logical-yet-surprising (for me, at least) resolution.  IMO, this is the best Murder Mystery in the series.

   As always, among all the sleuthing and wit, Downie tackles some serious topics.  Here, Capital Punishment is examined and, to a lesser degree, Slavery.  This is a both a standalone novel and a part of a series.  There’s nothing R-rated about it, unless expressions like “Bollocks” offend you, and I pity you if that's the case.

Kewlest New Word...
Embrocation (n.) : a liquid used for rubbing on the body to relieve pain from sprains and strains; ointment; lotion; cream.

    The carriage rumbled to a halt and he found himself sitting no more than six feet away from its passenger.  A pair of perfectly made-up dark eyes gazed at him from an artificially pale face.  The reddened lips parted to emit the word, “Gaius!”
    “Claudia!”  Ruso was not sure how a man should address his former wife after three years of separation, but he was confident that you’ve put on weight and what have you done to your hair? were not appropriate.  (loc. 1218)

    “If you’re not buying, don’t interfere with the stock.”
    Tilla sighed.  “My people,” she said sadly, gazing out between the masts to where a lump of driftwood was swirling on the current.  “Always the same.”
    Cass said, “ What is the matter with your people?”
    “Nothing,” said Tilla, setting out once more along the wharf.  “They are clever and brave.  But when you offer them something good they can always find a reason why it will not work.”  (loc. 3868)

Kindle Details...
    Persona Non Grata sells for $9.59 at Amazon.  The other Medicus books range in price from $7.55 to $9.99.

“Gaius, you haven’t done something very silly, have you?”  “Frequently.”  (loc. 758)
    Persona Non Grata is unique in one other way – a lot of ink is spent on Tilla becoming a follower of “Christos”, including the requisite theology as the brethren (sisters, actually) educate her about this new God.  I always cringe a little when religion begins to creep into a book or series that previously had none, and I’ve been burnt once or twice in the past by authors trying to sneak their religious dogma into a novel of an unrelated genre.

    I haven’t been reading this series in order, and since this is Book Three in a currently 6-book series, I’ve read the three novels that follow it.  And I am happy to report that the series does not veer into religious drivel.  Tilla adds Christos to her various other deities, and Ruso continues to be skeptical of the value of any of them.  Oh, he’ll offer a sacrifice when it is prudent, but mostly it’s a pragmatic CYA gesture.

    It’s taken me about a year to read all the books in this series, and I’m happy to say it hasn’t become stale at all.  Hopefully, there’s a Book 7 in the works.

    8½ Stars.  FWIW, my local digital library used to offer every book in this series except this one.  But last December I discovered you could make recommendations for further e-books, and so I suggested Persona Non Grata.  About a month later they sent me an e-mail notifying me that they had acquired PNG.  There are other dedicated Ruth Downie fans here in Phoenix, and it wasn’t until now that I found it available.  The point is:  if your local digital library doesn’t carry a book you want, and lets you make suggestions, by all means, do it!

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