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Persona Non Grata: A Novel of the Roman Empire    by Ruth Downie order for
Persona Non Grata
by Ruth Downie
Order:  USA  Can
Bloomsbury, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Persona Non Grata is the third (following Medicus and Terra Incognita) in Ruth Downie's excellent Roman Empire mystery series starring army medicus Gaius Petreius Ruso. As in previous episodes of this remarkable series, Downie provides her own amusing summary at the beginning, telling us our hero will be 'Lied for by Valens, a fellow medic', 'Harassed by' his sisters, continuing on in this mode to conclude with 'Argued with, slept with, and abandoned (again) by' Tilla, of course.

A divorced Roman army doctor born in Gaul, Ruso joined his friend Valens at a Twentieth Legion outpost in what is now Chester. In Medicus, he bought young female slave Tilla (whose real name is Darlughdacha) from her abusive owner and solved the mystery of whorehouse murders. In Terra Incognita, Ruso took an assignment in the borderlands, to escort Tilla back to her homeland. While an uprising simmered around them, he investigated another murder, in which the suspect was a childhood friend of Tilla's, and also solved the cold case of the slaughter of Tilla's family.

After breaking his leg rescuing a Briton from drunken legionaries, Ruso receives an urgent message, demanding his return to Gaul. He heads home, on convalescent leave, with Tilla. On arrival, the first mystery is who sent the missive - it wasn't his brother Lucius. In fact, the family's financial problems are exacerbated by Ruso's presence. His stepmother Arria does not welcome a barbarian in their midst. His sister-in-law Cass is grieving over the disappearance at sea of her brother Justinus. His sister Marcia is in love with a gladiator. And when the family's chief creditor, Severus, dies of poisoning in their home, both Ruso and his ex-wife Claudia become suspects.

Ruso gets to work, to determine exactly what poison was used and where it might have been obtained. While he follows that trail, Tilla goes to a Christian meeting with one of the house slaves, after which she and Cass follow a lead into danger. But, with Tilla's energetic help, Ruso works it all out in the end. And, despite their cultural differences, he and his love decide to return to Britannia together. Ruso reminds me of a combination of Lindsey Davis's Marcus Didius Falco and Alan Alda's Hawkeye character in M*A*S*H. Highly recommended!

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