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Tabula Rasa: A Crime Novel of the Roman Empire    by Ruth Downie order for
Tabula Rasa
by Ruth Downie
Order:  USA  Can
Bloomsbury, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Tabula Rasa: A Crime Novel of the Roman Empire is the sixth in Ruth Downie's delightful series starring Roman medicus Gaius Petreius Ruso, a mix of Lindsey Davis's Marcus Didius Falco and Alan Alda's Hawkeye. Though I read the first few episodes, I missed a couple more, so had some catching up to do on Ruso's life with his British wife Tilla (whose real name is Darlughdacha).

As Tabula Rasa opens, Ruso and Tilla are back in Brittania, at the fort of Parva. Ruso is medicus there for builders of Hadrian's Wall. Living with them is the very pregnant Virana, a young woman whom Tilla has insisted they help. Ruso is both frustrated and concerned by the disappearance of his clerk, Candidus, whom he hired at the request of the young man's uncle Albanus. His work area at the hospital has 'teetering piles of writing tablets stacked on every available surface.'

But the story opens on another disaster, a rock face collapse in the quarry. An officer's leg has been crushed but getting to Prefect Pertinax (father-in-law of his friend Valens) is perilous - Ruso has to pick his way across the debris and amputate the leg, when at any moment the wrong move might bring tons of rock down. A young boy, Aedic, watches what transpires, having previously observed a dead body being disposed of in the same area. Can he keep these secrets from his peers?

While all this goes on, Tilla takes Ruso to stay the night with an old friend of her mother's and his family, at 'a native house'. Despite some misunderstandings the visit goes well and the patriarch offers to bless their marriage, which entails a ceremony followed by 'singing and dancing and lots of food'. This makes Tilla very happy and Ruso very nervous. Tilla's joy is cut short though when military actions estrange her from the old man and his family.

Then a local boy goes missing and the natives are up in arms, believing that a soldier took him. It becomes a race against time to find the child before there's another uprising. Both Tilla and Ruso act bravely to avoid conflict, and Tilla finds a new family. I enjoyed their latest adventures very much and look forward to the next one, which just might take them back to Rome. Enjoy this very entertaining series!

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