The latest book by R.S. Downie arrived on my doorstep recently, and is a reminder of the enduring popularity of books set in Roman times. The leader of the pack has for a good many years been Lindsey Davies, whose books about Falco have achieved a great deal of acclaim not only in Britain but throughout the world.
There are quite a number of others, however, who work in classical territory to very good effect. The American Steven Saylor is one, and closer to home we have Jane Finnis (whose new blog is a recent arrival on my blogroll.) And now we have Ruth Downie – it is, incidentally, an interesting question as to why some authors opt to be published under their initials rather than their first name; suffice to say that it has never done P.D. James any harm! There’s a suggestion on Ruth’s website that research shows that some male readers might be deterred from reading a book obviously written about a woman, which I think would have been extraordinary when P.D. was first published, let alone today.
Ruso and the Root of All Evils is the third novel about Gaius Petreus Ruso, whom the author describes neatly as a ‘Roman army medic and reluctant sleuth’. It follows Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls (published in the US under the less evocative title Medicus) and Ruso and the Demented Doctor (Terra Incognita in the US).
The Ruso books have been well reviewed both here and overseas, and I’m pleased to have discovered them. In this story, our hero’s family falls under threat, but apart from the mystery, one of the merits of this series is the entertaining style of writing. The pattern is set right at the outset, when a witty summary of Ruso’s misadventures is provided, culminating in the news that he is ‘argued with, slept with, and abandoned (again)’ by the lovely Tilla. We are told early on that Tilla ‘had never fully subscribed’ to Ruso’s view that stealing is wrong', and the light and agreeable way that Ruth Downie has of capturing her characters is one of the key elements in the success of this likeable series.