Tuesday 7 July 2015

Two crime titles

Brief reviews of a couple of crime books today. First up, Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls by Ruth Downie:

Gaius Petreius Ruso is a doctor, or the medicus, in Ancient Rome somewhere around 117AD. Following his divorce and the subsequent discovery that his deceased father has left the family bankrupt, he decides to move to Britania in the hope of better pay, some of which he can send home to help his brother keep the family farm going. He ends up in Deva - modern day Chester - working in a hospital in the military garrison there. He's hardly arrived when he resues an injured slave girl, Tilla, from a slave trader. The fact that she's less than grateful and that he has to hide her presence in the hospital from the authorities doesn't make his life any easier. Nor does the discovery of two dead bodies, both of them females from the local brothel. Is there a serial killer on the loose? Nothing is going right for Ruso at the moment and the last thing he needs is to get a reputation as 'that doctor who's investigating the murders'. Naturally, that's precisely what happens.

It feels like months since I've read any crime books... in fact it's only about three weeks! Anyway, nice to get back to one and also nice to return to Ancient Rome, albeit slightly later than Steven Saylor's books and rather than Rome - here we have Ancient Britain, occupied by the Romans of course. The setting was Chester, a city I've been to briefly and it's old, historical and beautiful. Anyway, this series was recommended to me by a friend when I asked for Ancient Rome book recs. And I'm glad as it was a thoroughly absorbing read. Poor Ruso is really down on his luck, struggling, but it comes over in a light-hearted, comic way as he staggers from disaster to disaster. I loved Tilla, even though she was totally misguided... although her status as a slave gave her very few choices and really makes the reader consider the plight of slaves in Roman times. It's a concept that's hard for us and our 21st. century sensibilites to understand but it was a way of life in those days and these books are a good way of educating us about that. Their complete powerlessness is shocking to me, I have to confess, and how anyone can ever have thought it was ok to 'own' another human being is totally beyond me. Anyway, I have the second book in this Medicus series waiting for me at the library and also plan to read the next Steven Saylor book soon, Arms of Nemisis, which I gather also concentrates on the plight of slaves.

Next, The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard.

The year is 1987 and on a snowy night the sheriff of Small Plains, Kansas, along with his two teenaged sons, finds the dead body of a young woman. They take the body to the local doctor, a close friend of the sheriff, and the boys are told to stay in the car. What happens to the body in the doctor's surgery is witnessed in secret by Mitch, the local judge's son, whose girlfriend, Abby, the doctor's daughter, is waiting upstairs for him. He never returns. Abby discovers the next day that Mitch has left town, never to return. Mitch's mother tells her that the boy has been sent away to avoid him becoming entangled with her - a small-town girl - when he is destined for higher things. Devastated she eventually accepts this as do the whole town. No one tries very hard to discover the name of the dead girl so she's buried in an anonymous grave. Seventeen years later after Mitch's mother is found dead in the same cemetary, things start to unravel and secrets that have been kept for a very long time begin to emerge.

Well, who would have thought that this would turn out to be a page-turner? I bought it a couple of years ago after reading a blog-review of it... unfortunately I can't remember whose it was. (Possibly Cathy or Kay.) Anyway, it languished, as many of my books do, on the tbr shelf until I decided, on a whim, to read it last week. Immediately, I was in Kansas on a winter's night with snow falling all around and I just thought, 'Ah... I'm going to like this one.' And so it turned out to be. The plot uses that device of hopping back and forth between time periods, in this case !986/7 and 2004. I can't say I'm the biggest fan of this style of writing but in this book it works very well. I *am* a big fan of this kind of family secrets story. I must admit I worked out fairly early on who and what and even why, but the fun was in seeing if I was right. The fun was also in the setting of small town America and seeing how these towns work with several big-wigs sort of running the town... if it's at all true... which it is to a certain extent in the UK, I know. Characterisation wasn't the strongest, I will say that. I didn't feel I really knew the main characters but the plot carried it and it was pacey and kept my interest throughout. Glad I picked it up after all this time.

The Virgin of Small Plains is my book 16 for Bev's Mount TBR 2015 challenge .



DesLily said...

LoL you are so right about how you enjoy stories that take place in America and I'd rather read Victorian England / Scotland/ Ireland lol A cold case full of family secrets is still my favorite lol.. I'm glad you finally pulled that one off your shelf!!

TracyK said...

I have often wondered if I would like this book. I am not sure about the premise but if you found the book a page turner I would probably like it.

TracyK said...

Sorry, I did not even specify which book... The Virgin of Small Plains is the one I have thought of reading.

BooksPlease said...

These look two very different and interesting books - different in setting and culture, that is. I really shouldn't* but I'm going to look out for both of them - the library has books (including Medicus) by Ruth Downie in other branches than my local one, but they're popular and mainly already out on loan and one book by Nancy Pickard - not the one you read - and it's in large print, which I don't like (strange I know when I often struggle with small fonts, but the format of the large print books just puts me off and the font is too large!)

*I shouldn't because I have too many for my tbr shelves! :)

Peggy Ann said...

The Nancy Pickard book sounds right up my alley! I have a different one by her on my shelf yet to read, The Scent of Lightning I think is the name. I'll look for this one at my library.

Cath said...

Pat: I just think that is too funny. I'm glad I finally pulled it off my shelf too, I was quite surprised at how much I liked it. So surprised I had to give it to Peter to read and even he liked it (he's far more picky than me).

Tracy: It's always so nice when a book you bought years ago and forgot about turns out to have been an excellent purchase!

Margaret: Oh yes, completely and utterly different... I like to ring the changes. Yes, it seems the Medicus books are popular so I've no idea why I'd not heard of them before.

I agree the large print font is really a bit too large but I've managed to adjust my eyes to them and now have no problem. This version of Medicus was in fact large print and, if memory serves, it was all Devon libraries had (not positive) and I wanted to read it so needs must.

As to The Virgin of Small Plains... what a pity we're not neighbours (how many times have I said to other bloggers) as you could borrow mine.

Peggy: I hope you can find a copy as it really is an excellent read. I now want to go to Kansas! LOL