I was looking for a new historical crime fiction series and was pleased to discover this one set in the Ancient Roman Empire. Roman Army medic Gaius Petreius Ruso has just been stationed in Deva in Britannia and immediately finds himself involved, albeit very reluctantly, with investigating the matter of some young girls who have been murdered.
Deva historically was a legionary fortress and town in the Roman province of Britannia on the site of the modern city of Chester. It was built as part of the Roman army’s advance north against the Brigantes, Celtic Britons who in pre-Roman times controlled the largest section of what would become Northern England.
Ruso ends up taking on one of these Brigantes (or “natives” as the Romans call them) as a housemaid after he impulsively buys her. She was a slave who was injured, and it was clear her owner had no intent of getting her healed. As a doctor and a humanist he couldn’t let that stand. The girl speaks only some Latin, and won’t give Ruso her name, so he ends up calling her Tilla. Far from being grateful, Tilla is way more assertive than a slave should be, and vexing to no end. But Ruso, who tries to civilize her in a “My Fair Lady” way, also grows accustomed to her face . . . .
Meanwhile, Ruso manages to solve the murders, locate (sort of by accident) the culprit, and figure out what to do about Tilla.
An Afterword by the author explains that she didn’t have much historical data to go on, but availed herself of what research she could, and applied her imagination for the rest of it. What she ascertained about ancient medical practices was especially illuminating and rewarding to learn.
Evaluation: I didn’t like the curmudgeonly Ruso much at first, but found, like Tilla did, that he kind of grows on you after awhile. Altogether, I assessed the book as “delightful” and immediately checked out the next installment.
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007