Sunday, December 18, 2011

Terra Incognita:A Novel of the Roman Empire, by Ruth Downie (author), Simon Vance (narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9781400156672, April 2008

This second entry in Downie's Roman mystery series brings a change of scene. Worn out and mentally exhausted from his unwilling investigation of the deaths of several local prostitutes, Gaius Petreius Ruso fondly imagines that accepting a short mission to the north of Britain with the 20th Legion will be a nice rest for him and an opportunity for Tilla to visit what remains of her family. They'll be just south of what will soon be Hadrian's Wall, with tribes not yet fully reconciled to Roman rule on both sides of the border. What could possibly go wrong?

The accident on the road, when they are nearly there, the oxen pulling a wagon bolting and the brakes failing, resulting in deaths and major injuries, is just the beginning. And it is not, of course, an accident. The brakes were cut.

They arrive at the fort that's their destination to discover that a soldier has been gruesomely murdered. Even worse, Tilla's old lover is the prime suspect--and much to Ruso's dismay, it appears that Tilla's relationship with  the man is maybe not entirely over. Meanwhile, the local regiment's medic, Thessalus (Note: I listened to the audiobook and am guessing on some of the spelling), has confessed to the murder and is apparently quite mad. And the assistant medic, Gambax, is perfectly competent, but both lazy and corrupt. Ruso is asked to take charge of the infirmary and try to set things straight there in time for the arrival of the governor, and the new medic, in a few days' time.

He also, of course, has soon promised both Tilla and the mad medic that he'll try to prove the innocence of Tilla's old, and maybe current, lover.

This is, once again, a very engaging visit to Roman Britain, filled with interesting and compelling characters, as well as a clever mystery with a nice set of red herrings and false leads. We meet the one Jew in the province, Susannah, running a very good snack bar, Tilla's uncle Cadavincus the brewer, who, unlike Tilla, her late father, and her ex-lover, is a big booster of the Roman presence in Britain, and her cousin Amelia, who was in love with the murdered soldier.

A solid, entertaining addition to the series. Recommended.

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