History Book Reviews

Ruso and the Root of All Evils – R S Downie

For the sequel to Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls and Ruso and the Demented Doctor, R S Downie gives us Ruso and the Root of All Evils which follows its predecessors (both of which were bestsellers) admirably. Following his previous adventures, our protagonist is content in his life in Britannia with his slave (and lover), Tilla. Content that is until he is called back to Gaul on urgent family business, the details of which are not immediately apparent.

Taking Tilla with him, he returns home to find that his brother in law has mysteriously disappeared, and that his family is heavily in debt to his ex-wife’s new husband – Severus – and as a result stand to lose everything Ruso’s father worked so hard for. Severus proceeds to drop dead in the Ruso family home during their first meeting (having been poisoned), and to further compound Ruso’s misery, he has his family’s various demands to meet; his stepmother (who herself is not without blame in the family’s financial crisis) attempting to marry him off to a wealthy neighbour (whilst at the same time refusing to even recognise Tilla’s existence) and his recalcitrant sisters’ constant demands for him to organise their dowries. It is hard not to sympathise with the predicament Ruso finds himself in!

Downie clearly feels very comfortable writing her characters – they are wonderfully written, refreshingly natural and laced with humour. Despite the combination of being the prime suspect in Severus’ murder and all the familial pressures bearing down upon him, Ruso manages to retain his dry wit. Under the circumstances, this is no mean feat – especially when attempting to juggle his relationships with his recently bereaved ex-wife and Tilla!

There is none of the stilted dialogue here that other potentially enjoyable novels suffer from; instead Downie effortlessly delivers entertaining and genuine discourse, all the while adding to the plausibility of her story.

Accurate historical details interwoven within the narrative lend to an overall air of authenticity and credibility which can so often be so lacking in this genre and for this Downie should be commended.

Of course, the central strand of the plot is the murder of the immediately detestable Severus (latin for stern or severe – a very appropriate moniker!) and it is around this dastardly deed that Downie adeptly constructs her novel, combining action and suspense to the very end. Although clues are ingeniously distributed throughout, the outcome of “Ruso and the Root of All Evils” is at no point a fait accompli, with each hint of nefarious activity forcing the reader to revisit previous deductions.

Published as Persona Non Grata in the USA, Ruso and the Root of All Evils will continue to delight those fans already enamoured with the dry humoured medic, and will doubtless achieve success within a new audience – it certainly deserves to do so.

Jonny Mardling

Jonny Mardling

Jonny Mardling is the Editor of The History Herald. He has a keen interest in Second World War and Cold War history, and with a great grandfather who was killed during the Battle of the Somme, he also has a fascination with First World War history.

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