Downie, R S - 'Ruso and the Root of all Evils'
RUSO AND THE ROOT OF ALL EVILS is the third in the Medicus series by R S Downie. The book is set initially in Roman-occupied Britain where Gaius has lived for a number of years, but moves to the South of France (Gaul in Roman times).
Gaius Petreius Ruso is a doctor with the legions, and when he receives a message from home saying "Lucius to Gaius Brother, Come Home" he sets off on the long journey to the South of France with his British Housekeeper/Lover Tilla. When he arrives home after a journey of many weeks to see what he can do it quickly becomes apparent that the letter was a forgery. The family are in horrific debt to dangerous men with the power to destroy them. Now that Gaius (now the head of the family after his father's death) has returned home, the creditors can sue for possession of the family farm and vineyard. When the principal creditor Severus dies of poisoning in Gaius's home, it looks as if he has real problems on his hands - unless he can find who the real killer is.
Other problems he has to consider include: his brother-in-law Justinus feared drowned; his step-mother intent on doing improvements that they don't have the money to pay for; his ex-wife who is Severus's widow, and trying to avoid being pushed into marrying local landowner Lollia Saturnina. When his brother's wife Cassiana and Tilla set off to find out what happened to Justinus, Gaius sets off after them only to be captured by the investigators sent from Rome. Whilst he is doing his investigation, the investigators start to interrogate all the suspects.
In trying to solve the murder, Gaius takes on the role of surgeon patching up gladiators in the local amphitheatre. He soon finds out what the poison used on Severus was and a description of the culprit, but can he point the investigators in the correct direction before they blame him or his family?
R S Downie has produced an interesting novel which seems to be very well researched. I found the details of life in Roman Britain and France (Britannia and Gaul) to be very well described and added to the reading experience. Gaius is a complex character and his relationships with Tilla and his ex-wife add intrigue to the story. The premise that a Roman doctor could also be an investigator appears to be unlikely but Downie seems to have made it work very well and has produced a series that is well-worth spending time reading.
Paul Blackburn, Scotland