TABULA RASA by Ruth Downie


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Against a backdrop of near-constant combat, a conscientious doctor tries to find two mysteriously missing persons.

Britannia, A.D. 122. Hadrian's Wall is being constructed in order to isolate Roman colonists in the south from the barbarians of Caledonia to the north. Stationed at a fort, Medical Officer Gaius Petreius Ruso (Semper Fidelis, 2013, etc.) tends the legionnaires charged with the project. When Fabius, the local centurion, gets his leg trapped in the quarry, Ruso is forced to amputate to extricate him. This is just the beginning of a series of unfortunate events to befall Ruso and his Britannian wife, Tilla, who assists her husband. Among the residents she's visited to strengthen local relations with the empire is influential local Senecio, with whom she's struck up a friendship. Silvanus the centurion reports that Ruso's clerk, the Legionary Candidus, has moved from the next fort to the hospital in Parva in the west, but no one can find him. His disappearance just might have something to do with the recent falling out between Albanus, Ruso's friend and former clerk, and his girlfriend, Grata. Zealous soldiers on the hunt for Candidus virtually ransack local farms, including Senecio's, in their scorched-earth search. Not long after, Senecio's son Brana vanishes as well, and Tilla feels especially responsible because the family mistakenly thought she was tending the boy. Ruso feels bound to investigate but also to mend relations between the rash and intimidating centurions and the wary natives. And he wonders: Could these two disappearances possibly be connected?

Downie writes with quiet authority and surprising depth, offering an engaging depiction of an obscure slice of history. The mystery is a nice addition but never the main attraction.

Pub Date: Aug. 5th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-60819-708-8
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2014


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