Semper Fidelis: A Novel of the Roman Empire

Written by Ruth Downie
Review by Barry Webb

Set in 2nd-century Roman Britain during Hadrian’s rule, this interesting read started out slow for a mystery but picked up speed about a quarter of the way through. After that, I had trouble putting it down at night.  There are many twists, turns, and setbacks for the protagonist, Gaius Petreius Ruso, a Roman army medical officer, and for his wife Tilla, a native Briton.  Upon his deployment to the 20th Legion at Eboracum, Ruso notices an unusually high number of suicides, mysterious deaths and injuries among the new Briton recruits piling up in the medical registry. His curiosity earns him the enmity of the decorated Centurion Geminus, commander of the 20th Legion, and leads to death plots against him and his wife.

The book was well researched, and the author did a fine job providing a feel for what 2nd-century Romans and Britons were like — as well as letting the readers sense their mutual suspicions. There were times, however, when I wished the author had made better use of “he said” and “she said” rather than their substitutes. From an issues standpoint, this book had more depth than most mysteries and perhaps should be classified as mainstream. All of the characters, major and minor, were very well drawn.  Highly recommended.