Friday, March 16, 2018

"Memento Mori"

Ruth Downie is the author of a series of mysteries featuring Roman Army medic and reluctant sleuth, Gaius Petreius Ruso: Medicus, Terra Incognita, Persona Non Grata, Caveat Emptor, Semper Fidelis, Tabula Rasa, Vita Brevis, and the newly released Memento Mori.

Downie applied the Page 69 Test to Memento Mori and reported the following:
Memento Mori is set in the town the Romans called Aquae Sulis – “aquae” because of the natural hot springs that rise there, and “Sulis” because that was the name of the local goddess who supplied them. One of the springs was adapted by the occupying Roman authorities, who poured money into the building of a large temple and bathing complex around it. In the novel I’ve invented some entrepreneurs who have made a disastrous attempt to build over one of the others.

On page 69 my lead character Ruso has just tried to rescue a naked man from drowning in the one remaining “unimproved” spring. This has not gone down well with the man, who was in fact happily communing with his native goddess. Fortunately Ruso, who is married to a Briton – albeit one from a distant tribe – is able to speak to the man in his own language.
…the native said, “At my age I might have died of shock.”

“You might,” Ruso agreed, wondering if this was the prelude to a demand for compensation.

But instead the native busied himself rubbing a graze on his elbow and observed, “A Roman with the voice of a Brigante, eh? We don’t get a lot like you around here.”

“Nor anywhere else,” Ruso told him. “Sorry about dragging you out.” He nodded toward the water, which was now swirling with mud. “Is it good?”

“Your lot haven’t ruined this one yet, but give them time.”

“What’s going on with the one behind the fence?”

The man’s face creased into a grin. “They were told not to interfere with that spring. I told them, my sister told them, their own people told them, but they knew better. Till Sulis gave them a bloody nose.”

“What happened?”

“You can’t disrespect our goddess and get away with it.”
This small scene captures some of the tensions of the story: between the natives and the Romans, and between the religious (who see any misfortune as a sign of the goddess’s anger) and those who consider themselves more rational. Ruso’s British wife has an unshakeable belief in the supernatural, which leaves Ruso himself caught squarely in the middle – a place that’s always interesting to write about, and hopefully to read about, too.
Learn more about the book and author at Ruth Downie's website.

The Page 69 Test: Caveat Emptor.

The Page 69 Test: Tabula Rasa.

The Page 69 Test: Vita Brevis.

--Marshal Zeringue