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Wednesday, 7 December 2016

‘Vita Brevis’ by Ruth Downie



Published by Bloomsbury Publishing,
12 July 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-62040-958-9

It is ancient Rome and a doctor, Gaius Ruso and his wife, Tilla and their young daughter Mara are newly arrived from Britannia. Their excitement at reaching Rome is tempered by finding a body in a barrel outside their apartment. The previous occupant a Doctor Kleito has left in a hurry, supposedly the barrel was intended for him.

Doctor Kleito also seems to have left owing people money and it is not long before Ruso and Tilla have visits from debt collectors demanding payment.

No one seems to know where Kleito has gone and Balbus, an influential figure in Rome and their landlord, instructs Ruso to make enquiries as to his whereabouts. He was a good friend of his and he cannot believe he would have left without telling him. Balbus also asks Ruso to make him a potion to protect him from poison as he is about to dine with a certain Curtins Cossus, whom he does not wholly trust. However,  Ruso only has a few ingredients Kleito left behind and is not sure what they are, there are no labels on any of the bottles and he is rather reluctant to comply. Balbus is very insistent so Ruso makes him up a concoction out of what he hopes are innocent ingredients just to keep him satisfied. But are they as innocuous as Ruso thinks?

Meanwhile the debt collectors are getting more insistent and violent and Tilla fears for their lives especially when they threaten the life of their daughter Mara. She wants to return to Britannia where she was actually born.

Ruso is also called upon to help Accius, who secured the position for him, in winning the hand of Balbus' daughter Horatia.

What will be the outcome of Ruso's many problems? Who is the body in the barrel? Has he only prepared a harmless concoction for Balbus, will his wife insist on going back “home” and can he help Accius to win Horatia's hand against the wishes of her family? All the questions are eventually answered but not before Ruso nearly reaches the end of his tether.

This was an intriguing story well written and bringing ancient Rome vividly to life. Having been to Rome several times I found it very interesting.

Ruth Downie has a great sense of humour and it comes through in the narrative, parts of it were very amusing and it helped bring the whole story to life. Apparently all the previous books about Gaius Ruso take place in ancient Britain, they should also be very interesting and I shall look out for them.
This was a really great read, and is recommended.
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Reviewer: Tricia Chappell
Ruth (RS) Downie left university with an English degree and a plan to get married and live happily ever after. She is still working on it. In the meantime she is also the New York Times bestselling author of a mystery series featuring Roman doctor Gaius Petreius Ruso. This is her fifth book. The four currently available are: Medicus (published as Medicus/Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls in the UK and Australia)Terra Incognita (Ruso and the Demented Doctor) Persona non Grata (Ruso and the Root of All Evils) Caveat Emptor (Ruso and the River of Darkness)
Ruth is not the RS Downie who writes real medical textbooks. Absolutely none of the medical advice in the Ruso books should be followed. Roman and Greek doctors were very wise about many things but they were also known to prescribe donkey dung and boiled cockroaches.

Find out more at www.rsdownie.co.uk


Tricia Chappell. I have a great love of books and reading, especially crime and thrillers. I play the occasional game of golf  (when I am not reading). My great love is cruising especially to far flung places, when there are long days at sea for plenty more reading! I am really enjoying reviewing books and have found lots of great new authors.






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