Ruso and the Root of All Evils

Written by R S Downie
Review by Marina Oliver

A letter urging his return from Roman Britain sends doctor Ruso rushing home to southern Gaul, on extended sick leave due to an ankle injury, taking his mistress cum servant Tilla with him. Once there he discovers the letter was a forgery, yet his help is needed. His family is in dire trouble, facing debt and suspected of poisoning their principal creditor, who just happens to be the husband of Ruso’s former wife. There is also the puzzle of the missing cargo ship, which seems to have been sunk deliberately, with his brother-in-law aboard, the new religion, Christianity which appears in the neighbourhood, and the hard investigators who come to find the murderer and are determined to pin it on Ruso and his family. Somehow Ruso must beat them to it if they are not to charge and ruin his family.

I thought it a pity to imitate the device used in the Falco novels, of a list of characters with amusing comments, as it invites comparisons, but the book, the third of the Ruso novels, needs none. It stands on its own as an enjoyable mystery. Ruso, Tilla, his brother and young family, his step-mother and half-sisters, are well-drawn and plausible. The other characters satisfyingly add to the mystery. The background is carefully portrayed, clearly researched in some detail, and realistic, especially in the domestic field. The horrors of the gladiatorial fights are not avoided, and the mystery is convoluted enough to please fans of historical crime novels.