Gaius Ruso Mystery #5: Semper Fidelis by Ruth Downie

Read: 13 May, 2013

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the next Ruso mystery for quite a while new. So when I heard about Semper Fidelis, I ordered it as soon as I was done with my patented Happy Dance ™. Unfortunately, it seems that Amazon.ca once again underestimated the selling power of any book that doesn’t feature a teenager marrying a sparkly vampire and, as with The Fault In Our Stars, I got my copy quite late (though, to be fair, I didn’t pre-order this time).

I really enjoyed Semper Fildelis. It followed a similar pattern to the other novels in that Ruso isn’t really a good investigator, he’s just bumbling about knocking stuff over and ends up “solving the case” simply by making the guilty parties nervous enough that they start to make mistakes. Or, in this case, by making the victims riled up enough that clues starts to fall together. It’s a really interesting (albeit sometimes frustrating) take on the detective model!

As in several of the other books in the series, much time is spend exploring the relationship between the Roman occupiers and the Briton natives, and how that relationship impacts a “mixed” couple like Ruso and Tilla.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but there is a new character added to Ruso’s retinue and s/he hints at a very interesting story arc to come. So, once again, I eagerly await the next instalment!

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Gaius Ruso Mystery #4: Caveat Emptor by Ruth Downie

Read: 22 June, 2011

A pregnant Iceni woman, a descendent of the fearsome Boudica, bursts into Britain’s procurator’s office claiming that her husband has been murdered and did not steal the tax money. Ruso, freshly back from Gaul and in need of work – any work – takes on the job of investigator. What he uncovers exposes the delicate peace between Rome and even the most “civilized” British tribes.

The Ruso series is written in a fairly straightforward and often humorous style. Ruso’s (and occasionally Tilla’s) commentary is injected into the narrative to give the series a sort of deadpan comedic element that is just so very British. But despite its similarity to other series, such as Ellis Peters’s Cadfael, Caveat Emptor lacks much of the innocence. There is a hopelessness to the series, a reminder that justice is not always served and that desired outcomes are not always possible.

Caveat Emptor is similar enough to the rest of the series to satisfy the fan, while different enough to stand on its own merits. Downie has proven that she is not to be a “one hit wonder,” and is more than capable of creating a sustainable series.

The mystery itself is good enough, but the best part of Downie’s work is the characterisations. Main characters, like Ruso and Tilla (and even Valens) are complex and distinctive, likeable despite their many flaws. Side characters are similar enough to archetypes to be recognizable, but they provide a lovely illusion of unexplored depth.

This is another great addition to the series and I look forward to reading the next one!

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Gaius Ruso Mystery #2: Terra Incognita by Ruth Downie

Read: 2 July, 2009

Britannia’s Twentieth Legion is heading north, to the very edges of civilization, and taking Gaius Petreius Ruso and his slave, Tilla, along with it. As in Medicus, he soon finds himself pulled into a murder investigation. Only this time, Tilla may be connected.

Terra Incognita is a wonderful sequel, capturing much of what made Medicus such a great novel while simultaneously finding its own unique value. As with the first book in the series, the murder comes almost secondary to the comedy and drama of the characters as Ruso and Tilla explore their growing relationship.

One of my favourite things about this series is how well Downie is able to balance making the characters true to life and yet also ridiculous. It’s that subtle, deadpan British humour – and Ruso certainly does come off as the proto-typical old school Brit!

Funny, interesting, and  suspenseful, all at the same time!

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