Caveat Emptor

by Ruth Downie

Reviewed by Annis

Caveat Emptor by Ruth Downie Set in the second century AD, Caveat Emptor sees former Roman Army medic and sometime investigator Gaius Petreius Ruso return to Britannia from his eventful trip to Gaul. He’s still stunned to realise that he’s now a married man and to prove it has not only his native British bride Tilla but a wedding gift from his family: a full set of matching red Gallic tableware. Ruso is nervous: “Tilla had plans. Women always did… and there was only so much planning a man could stand. He blamed the crockery.”

Under pressure to provide a home for Tilla, the tableware and maybe a family, Ruso is relieved to hear that his charming but unreliable friend Valens has found him a job. Valens welcomes Ruso and Tilla to Londinium, but appears distracted. His wife has left him. “So”, says Valens. “Women, eh?“ “Women”, agrees Ruso. “What do women want exactly?” they wonder, baffled.

The Procurator’s finance office hires Ruso to trace nearby Verulamium’s tax collector, who has disappeared along with the self-governing city’s tax collection. Ruso is warned to “keep the locals sweet”, but the natives may not be as friendly as they seem. As conspiracy, collusion and overly helpful city officials frustrate his investigation at every turn, Ruso feels increasingly tainted by the moral ambiguities inherent in colonial administration.

Caveat Emptor is darker and more complex than previous Ruso mysteries, but balanced by a nicely judged comic touch. Marriage raises issues for the newlyweds. Tilla has a secret she’s afraid to share. Ruso worries that he’s let his side down. How could an educated, civilized Roman let a stubborn Celtic barbarian get through his defences? She doesn’t even show proper wifely deference, but treats him like an equal. Of course she’s smart, warm-hearted, loyal and desirable and he can’t imagine life without her… Can the engaging twosome lower their guard and let love bridge the gap between a man and woman from very different cultures? (2010; 352 pages, including an Author's Note and map of Britannia circa A.D. 120; titled Ruso and the River of Darkness in the U.K. and Australasia)

More about Caveat Emptor at Powell's Books or

Other historical mysteries set in Roman Britain:

Medicus by Ruth Downie (2007), #1 in the Gaius Petreius Ruso mystery series (see the complete list on the Ancient History page). More info

Get Out or Die by Jane Finnis (2003), #1 in the Aurelia Marcella mystery series about a woman innkeeper in first-century Roman Britain. Review or more info at Powell's Books

The Germanicus Mosaic by Rosemary Rowe (1999), #1 in the Libertus mystery series featuring a mosaic-maker in second-century Roman Britain as sleuth. More info

Nonfiction about Verulamium and Roman Britain:

Verulamium, the Roman City of St. Albans by Rosalind Niblett (2001). More info

A History of Roman Britain by Peter Salway (1997). More info


Verulamium at Wikipedia

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