Sunday, January 1, 2012

Persona Non Grata: A Novel of the Roman Empire, by Ruth Downie (author), Simon Vance (narrator)

Blackstone Audio, ISBN 9781400164189,  November 2009

Ruso has just injured his foot attempting to rescue a boy from the river (the boy manages to save himself) when an uncharacteristically brief and urgent letter arrives from his brother Lucius: Come home immediately. In a panic about what new disaster is so awful Lucius won't even hint at it, he wangles extended medical leave, and he and Tilla pack up and head for southern Gaul.

Their arrival is a complete surprise, and not a welcome one. One of their major creditors is threatening a bankruptcy action against them, and the absence of the real property owner--Ruso--on public service had been legal protection against a seizure order. Lucius vehemently denies having sent the letter; if he'd thought his elder brother might be contemplating a return home, he'd have sent word not to come. Ruso's return makes them vulnerable to real financial disaster and disgrace.

Things only get worse when that same creditor drops dead during a private conversation with Ruso, poisoned.

Along with putting his investigation skills to work clearing himself and the other prime suspect, his ex-wife Claudia (now the widow of the dead man) of murder, Ruso has to figure out what happened to Lucius' brother-in-law Justinian, steward to Claudia's father, Probus. Justinian had been sent along on a merchant ship to watch over Probus' investment, but the ship has vanished. Ruso and Lucius' stepmother Aria wants to do new, expensive "improvements" to the house, and is certain Lucius is just being stingy and unreasonable in not letting her. And Ruso's half-sister Marcia wants her dowry settled so that she can marry.

Or rather, he discovers, so that she can buy the freedom of a gladiator so that he can marry her.

Oh, and Ruso had never mentioned Tilla in his letters home, and Aria, determined to marry him off to the rich widow next door, is not pleased and does her best to make sure Tilla knows it.

This is, like its predecessors, and excellent mystery, with wonderful characters and nicely twisty plotting. As always, both Tilla and Ruso show real talent for getting themselves into trouble in their attempts to do the right thing, and confuse each other thoroughly trying to communicate across the barriers of their cultural differences.


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