From one Roman detective to another, from child detective to adult detective – Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls is the first crime novel by Ruth Downie, or R S Downie as she calls herself on the cover. I found her over on Crime Always Pays last year, and was very impressed with her sense of humour. Always the busybody, I emailed her, and shortly afterwards we met up at the Bristol CrimeFest. She was the sole reason I sat through a rather dire session on historical crime. The less said about that the better.
Ruso. Yes, well. Ruso is a doctor, stationed with the Roman army in Chester, or Deva, as it was called in my youth. He doesn’t detect as much as he goes round stumbling over things. He stumbles over things that turn out to be a crime. Then he stumbles some more and finds the solution to the crime. Very absent minded but kind, always penniless but generous, and a little bit of an idiot. A sweet idiot, and he means well.
This could be modern Britain, or it could be New York. The disreputable bar feels quite American, but the builders are definitely British. Ruth makes some very nice observations on humans everywhere, at any time in history. That sense of humour I mentioned permeates the book.
The disreputable bar ‘employs’ slave girls to serve and entertain, and they keep going missing and turning up dead. Poor Ruso accidentally ends up buying a slave girl for himself, which he really can’t afford.
It’s just one thing after another, but he soldiers on treating the bar girls decently and looking after sick and injured soldiers. There are puppies, an abominable hospital administrator and a rather adorable assistant for Ruso.
I’ve developed a fondness for these people – the nice ones only, of course – and will want to see how life in Deva goes on. Ruth has two more books, so I can.
So can you.