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The medicus Ruso and his wife Tilla are back in the borderlands of Britannia, this time helping to tend the builders of Hadrian's Great Wall. Having been forced to move off their land, the Britons are distinctly on edge and are still smarting from the failure of a recent rebellion that claimed many lives.

Then Ruso's recently arrived clerk, Candidus, goes missing. A native boy thinks he sees a body being hidden inside the wall's half-finished stonework, and a worrying rumor begins to spread. When the soldiers ransack the nearby farms looking for Candidus, Tilla's tentative friendship with a local family turns to anger and disappointment. It's clear that the sacred rites to bless her marriage to Ruso will have to wait. Tensions only increase when Branan, the family's youngest son, also vanishes. He was last seen in the company of a lone and unidentified soldier who claimed he was taking the boy to see Tilla.

As Ruso and Tilla try to solve the mystery of the two disappearances - while at the same time struggling to keep the peace between the Britons and the Romans - an intricate scheme involving slavery, changed identities, and fur trappers emerges, and it becomes imperative that Ruso find Branan before it's too late.

352 pages, Paperback

First published August 5, 2014

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About the author

Ruth Downie

17 books715 followers
Ruth is the author of nine mysteries* featuring Roman Army medic Gaius Petreius Ruso and his British partner Tilla. The latest is a novella, PRIMA FACIE. She lives in Devon, England. A combination of nosiness and a childish fascination with mud means she is never happier than when wielding an archaeological trowel.

She is sometimes called R.S. Downie, but she isn't the person with the same name who writes medical textbooks, and recommends that readers should never, ever take health advice from a two thousand year old man who prescribes mouse droppings.

*The first four books have all had two titles. Ruth is still wondering how this ever seemed like a good idea. Since she is unable to wind back time, British readers may find it useful to know that:

Medicus was Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls,
Terra Incognita was Ruso and the Demented Doctor,
Persona Non Grata was Ruso and the Root of All Evils,
Caveat Emptor was Ruso and the River of Darkness -
but SEMPER FIDELIS, TABULA RASA, VITA BREVIS, MEMENTO MORI and PRIMA FACIE only have one title each - hooray!

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 151 reviews
Profile Image for Jane.
1,509 reviews169 followers
February 20, 2020
The author has really outdone herself!! This novel really shines in all respects; it's one of her best to date and highly recommended.

Medicus Ruso is with a vexillation from the XX Legion, based temporarily at a small fort involved in building Hadrian's Wall. Tilla, his wife is with him. First, Ruso's secretary disappears; has he gone AWOL or has something really nefarious happened to him? Then, a youngster, Branan, from a British family is kidnapped. Both the Britons and the Army are horrified and get involved in the investigations. Ruso and Tilla both investigate separate leads, dangerous to Ruso. We meet some old friends from the earlier volumes in the series; I was so glad to see them again: Valens, Ruso's close friend; Albanus, Ruso's former clerk; Susanna, who still runs the snack bar in Coria; even Valens's father-in-law, the gruff and no-nonsense Second Spear, now promoted to Prefect of the little fort. The British family plans a wedding blessing ceremony for the couple; will this come off? Downie's gently wry humor sparkled through the book, as well as a great story and denouement.

The book opens with a description of British autumn weather that put me right in the scene and made me smile at the turns of phrase:

It was easy to believe that the rain threw itself at you personally; hard not to feel persecuted and aggrieved when it found its way into your boots, no matter how much grease you slathered on them. It blew in veils across the sides of the hills; whipped along the crests; and cascaded in streams down the valleys. The river had burst its banks; and the meadows beside it mirrored the gray sky. Turf squelched underfoot and supply carts sank into the mud, so that whole gangs who should have been building spent the short daylight hours sloshing about, clearing drains and filling potholes....

[A]fter another long night in chilly beds, serenaded by a ragged chorus of coughing and snoring, the builders woke to an innocent morning full of birdsong.

I love Ruso and Tilla as a married couple--personality of each complementing the other. Yes, there are the occasional cultural misunderstandings, but you can see the couple love and accept each other as is. Ruso, although still analytical and serious, has become more content with life, since his meeting Tilla. She is still the impulsive, perennial optimist. I could hardly wait till this book came out and it was such a pageturner. I read it voraciously. Downie has really hit her stride with this novel.

The only sour note was the appalling cover: statue [back view] of Hercules and the Golden Apples of the Hesperides he's holding behind his back. There was only a tenuous link to the book: in one sentence one character refers to the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. The title was clever: Tabula Rasa [Clean Slate] I interpreted as referring to the disappearance of the clerk and the boy.
Profile Image for S.J.A. Turney.
Author 66 books403 followers
October 21, 2016
Only an excellent writer with a superb set of characters and an imagination full of fresh ideas can fuel a series to last more than maybe 4 or 5 books in a series. The fact that Tabula Rasa is book 6 in Ruth Downie’s series, then, is telling. The fact that, yet again, it is an absolutely cracking tale is even better.

I figure I’m past having to explain why I love Ruth’s books at this point, but to recap my view over the whole series, this is it in a nutshell:

Truly believable, very sympathetic and engaging characters
Intricate, carefully-crafted plots
Deep, realistic, historically accurate portrayal of the ancient world
Fascinating details that add colour and realism
Quirky sense of humour that always hits the spot
True historical mysteries, shot through with shrewd social observations

So there you go. That’s why I love the Ruso books. This book, in particular, brings in some of my favourite characters in the whole series. Some returning, some new. Tribune Accius, Valens, Albanus, Virana… and in particular Pertinax and Fabius. Oh, boy but Fabius is one of my fabourite supporting characters of any book I’ve read.

Tabula Rasa (‘Clean Slate’) is set in the forts on the Stanegate during the building of Hadrian’s wall. Ruso is back with the army, along with his better half, Tilla. He is serving as the medic in a tiny fort in the middle of nowhere that happens (much to his chagrin) to be close to the farm of one of Tilla’s relatives. Essentially the root of the tale is a case of ‘missing person’. Well, missing persons, at least. Ruso’s clerk has vanished, while his uncle Albinus is coming north to see him. And a local boy has vanished. As if the tension between locals and Roman invaders were not enough, the medicus pulls what I am coming to think of as ‘a Ruso’ and exacerbates the situation completely by accident. What follows is an excellent investigation that roams across the Stanegate forts and even beyond the wall, searching for the boy and trying to piece together why he was taken.

This area is somewhat home turf for me, so it was fascinating to read about places I know well. And I have to say I’d not twigged what was going on until Ruth revealed the truth towards the end of the book, so kudos there.

As usual, Tabula Rasa is pacy, clever, witty, thought-provoking and fascinating. I am starting to twitch at the thought that I now only have one Ruso book left before I will have to wait like everyone else.

Highly recommended as always. Ruth Downie’s books sell themselves.
Profile Image for Jamie Collins.
1,421 reviews262 followers
February 6, 2016
3.5 stars. Another fun historical mystery with the Medicus in Roman Britain! I’d forgotten how much I like Ruso and his wife Tilla, a native Briton. Their relationship is interesting. They are genuinely fond of each other, and at times they have great respect for each other’s abilities; however, they are influenced by two radically different cultures which have nothing but disdain for each other.

I like a curmudgeonly protagonist, and Ruso fits the bill. As always, there are the ordinary irritations that go with being in the army, and being stationed in damp, distant, hostile Britannia, and dealing with hypochondriacal or malingering patients. Now his young clerk has gone missing, and everyone thinks that the homeless pregnant girl Tilla brought home is carrying Ruso’s child, and to top it all, Tilla wants Ruso to be friendly with some of her acquaintances among the local Britons, even though the locals themselves are not keen to cozy up to a member of an occupying army.

The mystery is not especially compelling, but it doesn’t matter because the scenery and the characters are interesting enough to carry the book. I hope Downie writes more of these!
Profile Image for Jean.
1,701 reviews737 followers
September 17, 2016
This is book six in the Gaius Ruso series. This historical fiction series is best if it is read in order.

Ruso is a medical officer in the Roman Legion stationed in Briton. He married a native Briton, Tila. In this story Ruso and Tila are caught in a conflict between the Romans and Britons. There is a rumor a body is buried in the Hadrian’s Wall. Ruso’s medical clerk is missing. A Briton boy is missing and the family is related to Tila. With the Britons teetering on the edge of rebellion, Ruso and Tila attempt to discover who took the boy.

The book is well written and meticulously researched. The plot spirals and bends enough to keep the reader’s attention. Downie continues to develop the key characters. Russo’s relationship with Tila matures. Russo evolves with each installment rather than remaining a static character. I appreciate Downie’s attention to detail both historical and human. I also enjoyed the dry British humor.

I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. Simon Vance does a superb job narrating the book. Vance is a stage, film and TV actor who is also an award winning audiobook narrator. I always enjoy a book narrated by Vance.
Profile Image for D.G..
1,363 reviews343 followers
April 20, 2018
**3.5 stars**

Enjoyed this series as always and found the timing and setting - during the construction of Hadrian's Wall - totally fascinating. I love grumpy but thoroughly honest Ruso and I'm glad Tilla didn't seem so critical of Ruso as she's sometimes been in the past. They are never mushy with one another but I'm glad to have some semblance of feelings between them.

Totally looking forward the next book in the series, set in Rome!

Profile Image for Assaph Mehr.
Author 5 books384 followers
January 14, 2018
Finally we get to look at Roman Britain's most famous architectural marvel - Hadrian's Wall. Out in the northern extreme of the Roman empire, Ruso is managing the hospitals for the twentieth legions. Between building accidents, tense natives, and touchy centurions, it's only a matter of time till murders - rumoured and real - start dragging at Ruso.

What to Expect

Complex and engaging plot, with all characters being fully-fleshed people with their own agendas. Ruso has to navigate between all of them, trying to perform his duties while untangling murders based on sketchy details from reluctant witnesses.

As usual, Downie's research about Roman life in the Roman frontier under Hadrian is top-notch. We get a glimpse of what life must have been like to those soldiers who were busy building that lasting monument.

The POV of view alternates between Ruso and his (British) wife Tilla, and Downie does an excellent job in describing how these two very different people view the world. We also get a lot more exposure to native Briton life, and its ambivalent relations with the conquering Romans.

What I liked

This goes for the whole series.

The absolute charm of the writing. All characters are fully fleshed, believable, with their own motivations. The writing is witty, the setting is rich, the plot thought-out, and the mysteries engaging.

These are the kind of books where you care for the characters. Downie has a knack to depict the world-views of the characters realistically, switching viewpoints from a Roman medical officer to a British peasant woman. It is clear that each character - from main to support cast - is a fully realised person, with their own agendas and biases.

The plot of the stories grips you till can't put the book down. Downie is masterfully building up the investigations through sub-plots, distractions, daily lives, grand events - till you just have to know what happens next. Ruso may be a reluctant investigator, but he has that nagging voice in his head when things don't quite fit well, and it keeps him following and digging for the truth. Tilla has her own sense of fairness, and views on what makes the world tick.

Downie locates each book in a different town, mostly around Roman Britain
(with only two exceptions). She has clearly done her research for each location and they all come alive, with the latest modern archaeological understanding of life there seeping through her writing.

What to be aware of

These aren't the noir mysteries I normally read and recommend. While there are certainly some gruesome bits (did I mention construction accidents?), these aren't your typical first-person hard-boiled detective. Rather, the stories are told in a lighter vein, in third person perspective from either Ruso or Tilla's POV. Happily, Tilla gets a lot of page-time in this novel.

Ms Downie has experience with archaeology and Latin history, and it shows in her writing. She has elected to translate most Latin terms into modern English (e.g. calling a master 'my lord' rather then 'domine', or using 'doctor' for physician), which may sound a tad weird to those used to Latin terms from similar series.

Be aware that while it's not strictly necessary to read the books in order, it certainly helps.


I absolutely love this series. I have no idea why it took me so long to get back to it, but I am glad I did. If you've read the previous books, this is a great continuation. If not, go back to book one (Medicus) and start reading today!

Assaph Mehr, author of Murder In Absentia: A story of Togas, Daggers, and Magic - for lovers of Ancient Rome, Murder Mysteries, and Urban Fantasy.
Profile Image for Lois.
654 reviews11 followers
November 22, 2021
What delightfully entertaining historical mystery! I am a sucker for this combination particularly when a series' protagonists are a mated pair who are irritated by, but love each other in equal measure. Very funny, very sweet.
As reviewer Assaph Mehr puts it: "Downie is masterfully weaving the investigations through sub-plots, distractions, daily lives, grand events - till you just have to know what happens next. Ruso may be a reluctant investigator, but he has that nagging voice in his head when things don't quite fit well, and it keeps him following and digging for the truth. Tilla has her own sense of fairness, and views on what makes the world tick."
Such a nice addition to the Medicus series with Tilla finding some connection with her own people, and Ruso achieving a measure of appreciation and respect. In these times Downie's observations about wall building (Hadrian's in this case) were also appreciated by this reader: "If they all gathered around a warm hearth to share peace and beer, there would be no need for a wall."
Highly recommended for lovers of this genre.
939 reviews10 followers
July 10, 2017
Somehow I thought this followed the visit to Rome but no, this is before.
Ruso is up near Hadrian's wall and he and Tilla are having the usual accommodation problems and are renting space from the local snack shop. This time they have someone to work for the rent, Virana, a pregnant girl Tilla is monitoring. Things have not been quiet on the wall since the romans are really not making any attempt to understand the Britons, who despise the Romans as ignorant bullies.
I like MS Downie's characters because they make sense. Ruso has a certain sympathy for the Britons, because Tilla is one and doctors tend to think in terms of patients needing care, but he can only go so far. If a situation can't be phrased in terms familiar to one of Roman upbringing then he has difficulty getting around it and Tilla is Britonish enough to feel sorry for the Romans who can't really understand the way the world operates. We're much the same today and these Brits and Romans and so forth are just like us but with slightly different prejudices.
Fabius, Ruso's centurion, has been reading medical books and is suffering from a number of impossible conditions so that he spends all his time lying down complaining except when Accius, the legion's tribune, is watching him. We have the usual group of privates, clerks, and townspeople who get in the way or help or pass on gossip to the harm of everyone.
One thing that brings everyone together after a fashion is the disappearance of a nine year old boy and even more so when it appears that it is a Roman soldier who has snatched him. This kidnapping comes just after the rumours that there is a body hidden in the emperor's Wall and Ruso wonders if there is any chance this rumoured body could be his missing clerk, the nephew of his previous clerk. Meanwhile the missing boy's father is prepared to sit on the ground in the fort bemoaning his loss until the Romans restore his missing child.
Pertinax, now the Prefect in charge of the camp, has been injured in a fall so that Ruso has to do an amputation of his foot out on a slope in the quarry and then try to keep the man calm long enough for some healing to take place.
The days whip past with all of these worries, plus others, throwing themselves at Ruso's head. It would be understandable if he started crying out about not getting any respect, but he just digs and and worries away at the situations until things break open, but not before he has had to chase half way across Britain, wearing out horses and himself.

Profile Image for Eden.
1,716 reviews
January 8, 2020
2020 bk 11. I think this is my second favorite of the series. Ruso is still with the Twentieth Legion and assigned to a small fort along Hadrian's Wall - which that legion is building. Tilla is practicing her midwife and newly acquired medical skills with the local population and Ruso treats the troops in a small fort hospital. Things seem to be going smoothly until there is an accident in the quarry. A rockslide results in Ruso having to amputate the foot of the father-in-law of his best friend (one of the officers - the best officer of the legion). It is later that day that his clerk disappears which leads to ... a mystery that involves the Britains and in particular a family where the senior member knew Tilla's mother. Well-crafted, well-paced, and well- read. I will re-read this one with pleasure.
Profile Image for Ruth Chatlien.
Author 5 books106 followers
December 30, 2020
I enjoyed getting more of Tilla’s back story. The mystery was good, and the various misadventures were plausible.
Profile Image for Angelica.
418 reviews10 followers
February 24, 2015
TABULA RASA, BY RUTH DOWNIE (Book 6 of Medicus Investigation)

This series was a recommendation from my sister. She dangled the book in front of me while saying "It's mystery... set in Britannia when it was part of the Roman Empire... and the detective is a doctor," before I tackled her to the ground and took it from her hands. I have enjoyed the previous ones immensely, and this was no different.

Synopsis: While the Twentieth Legion finishes its work in building Hadrian's wall in the north of Britannia, a rumor starts that there's a body buried in the wall. Their medicus, Gaius Petreius Ruso, with the help of his Briton wife, Tilla, tries to investigate, but is sidetracked by mysterious the disappearance of his assistant and of a local boy.

Overall enjoyment: I quite liked it. The mystery part took a while to start, but the developments were very entertaining.

Plot: Very well developed, full of twists and turns, all of them perfectly foreshadowed.

Characters: The "regular cast" of Gaius, Tilla, Valens and Albanus was brilliant, as usual. I love how well characterized they are, and how they develop with each book, instead of remaining stationary. The "visiting cast", of characters just for this book, was also very well done.

World/setting: In all her books, Downie admits that she took a lot of liberties in recreating this setting. Other than the few specks of evidence that remain today and the knowledge of the Roman Empire in itself, very little is known of the the day-to-day living in that part of the world and those times. That being so, she makes a wonderful job of portraying it, with a very vivid and particular atmosphere.

Writing style: Even though sometimes she uses expressions and analogies that are decidedly not Roman, I still love the way she writes. It's fluid and direct, with a delightful twist of humor to it.

Representation: Very poor when it comes to POC. The whole debate of historical accuracy would fit in this part, I honestly don't know enough history to criticize. Maybe there should be some more dark-skinned soldiers? I'm pretty sure there were Africans in the Legions at that time. Then again, I have this notion that each Legion would be more likely to absorb the locals that wanted to join where it was, rather than dislodge people from remote parts of the Empire. Really, I wouldn't know.

Political correctness: This is a difficult category. She is trying to portray the Roman Empire, so her characters have the views that were common at the time, with slavery being commonplace and homosexuality being accepted not because of equal rights, but because it was the pinnacle of misogyny. On the other hand, she also always makes sure to tell the other side of the story, from the point of view of the Britons who were conquered.

Up next: An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay
Profile Image for Marlowe.
880 reviews16 followers
June 4, 2016
Ruso and Tilla are back up in northern Britannia where a rumour has it that there's a body buried in Hadrian's wall-in-progress.

Downie's writing is consistently solid, and I really enjoyed this latest addition to the series. It follows the familiar format of Ruso stumbling into the middle of a mystery - helped along by Tilla's meddling. He then proceeds to bumble around for 200 pages until, in the final few pages of the book, the mystery largely solves itself. It makes the series a little less than satisfying as a procedural because there's little to follow on - when I can't guess the answer, it's because all the salient information is being withheld.

There's humour in this format, though. Ruso is building a reputation as a crime solver, and yet he actually does very little. Tilla is the more active agent, and much of the most important comes through her investigations. Beyond that, it is Ruso's reputation that positions him to receive the information he needs for the mystery to be resolved.

The real appeal of the series is the setting, and how beautifully Downie is able to bring it to life. The world of these novels feels populated, and even background characters have tangibility. The world also plays out in our two main characters and how they interact and negotiate each other's cultural differences (and the differences really are cultural, because both are as stubborn and curmudgeonly as each other, much as they might protest otherwise).

Overall, I found this to be a fine addition to the series. I actually bought Tabula Rasa when it first came out, but was afraid to read it and no longer have it to look forward to! But with Vita Brevis coming out soon, I took a chance and was not disappointed.
Profile Image for Ken Kugler.
254 reviews2 followers
November 10, 2014
In the latest installment of Gaius Ruso, the Medicus, he and his wife, Tilla continue to become more and more rounded out as real people. I just love watching the growth of both of them. Their love and respect and caring is something that they see as they watch their friends, comrades and family.
In this installment, once again they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Russo is always trying to do the right thing even if it is not the best thing for him socially or politically. It is a curse but also his strongest point of being. Here he is trying to do his job and his clerk, Candidus, disappears. Tilla, tries to befriend the locals because she feels stuck between two worlds, Roman and Briton and not really fitting into either.
The family that she befriends has ties to her parents and she is trying to be accepted. Hadrian’s Wall is being built and one day rumors start circulating that a body has been hidden in the wall. A boy, Branan, claims to have seen the body being put into the wall and he is the son of Senecio, the person that Tilla want so badly to get close to because of her family connection. Because Branan is thought to have seen the body in the wall, he is kidnapped and the story is about how to find him alive and return him to his family.
Watching the characters Ruso and Tilla grow and learn to respect each other more and more is a joy. I even feel I have something invested in them. I also hope that someday they are able to have at least a child of their own. They both so desperately want one and feel like they are not as good as others because of this “failure”.
Profile Image for Alison.
1,255 reviews102 followers
August 10, 2016
Some crime series start strong, but peter out as none of the subsequant ideas are as good as the others. This is not one of those. This is the sixth outing with Ruso and Dalaghdacha for Downie, and it was a pleasure from start from finish, the atrongest entry yet as Downie's confidence with these characters settles. Downie jas also settled into a style that shifts between absurd humour and pathos much more smoothly, poking fun at her characters while never letting them cartoony or less than heroic.
She works these flaws well in the plot too. Characters as impulsive and sometimes obtuse as these allow a flexibility in driving the action forward. One problem in crime fiction can be that despite our heroes best efforts, things need to get worse in the first half of the book. Downie neatly solves this by having protagonists who believably make things worse, while allowing them to learn, correct course and resolve within genre norms. The tension between them - making it totally believable that they would pursue opposing courses of action - is both great to read and helps this.
Downie' willingness to let her heroes be flawed also extends to allowing them to be reflective of the societies they are from. Many historical crime fiction series rely on a POV hero who reflects largely modern values. Downie eschews that approach, allowing the tensions between different cultures to allow for critique, but acknowleding the uncomfortable reality of social support for slavery, torture as entertainment and rigid gender roles, while allowong her Romans and Britons humanity.
Great example of the genre. Want more!
Profile Image for Baelor.
171 reviews43 followers
August 6, 2018
This was perhaps my least favorite entry in the Ruso series. The social elements certainly dominated this narrative, in particular the relationships between the Britons and the Romans and, more specifically, the interaction between Ruso/Tilla and her Britannic relations near Hadrian's Wall.

The mystery was barely there, and most of the novel involved no actual development in that plot. Downie should have either simply dispensed with the investigation piece altogether or actually developed it. She possesses a keen enough sense of daily Roman life and interaction between the Empire and its subjects to simply write an entire novel exploring that issue, but for some reason she wants each novel to be underpinned by a disappearance or death. The result in this case was a hybrid that simply did not strike a satisfying balance.

Moreover, I found a lot of the description of the interactions redundant within this novel and the entire novel largely redundant given the second entry in the series, which I found more vivid and interesting in its depiction of the Gauls.

Tabula Rasa does feature some returning characters from previous novels, but that was not enough to redeem the very weak plot. I will say that Tilla is developing well and is growing into something more than a reliable impediment to Ruso's progress.
Profile Image for Jo  (Mixed Book Bag).
2,619 reviews48 followers
July 27, 2014
I always love visiting Britannia and seeing Ruso and Tilla again. From the first they have seemed an usual couple. When we first met Ruso he was a young curmudgeon, always unhappy. Tilla on the other hand tried to make the best of everything. Now six books later they are still settling into their marriage and still are a great couple to follow. Ruso is happy to be away from his family and Tilla is still looking for some connection to hers.

You can see from the blurb that there is a lot going on in Tabula Rasa. The plot brings in some new characters as well as visiting with some old favorites. Look for new possibilities and maybe a new setting for the next book and an important new character who only makes an appearance at the end of this book.

Once again Ruth Downie has mixed the Roman history in Britain with that of the native’s of Britannia and come up with a great story filled with information about a little known period of history. Mixed in with that are two mysteries for Tilla and Ruso to solve. I loved hearing what has happened to Ruso and Tilla but now I will have a long wait until the next book comes out.

While Tabula Rasa is book 6 in the series it can work as a stand-along. However it is much better if you have read the first books in the series.
Profile Image for Larry.
226 reviews4 followers
July 29, 2022
Tabula Rasa is another excellent work in Ms. Downie's Gaius Ruso series. Ruso and his wife Tilla know each other well enough that their relationship has moved beyond the comic misunderstandings that characterized the earlier books. Similarly, Ruso's growing mastery of the British language allows him and the reader to interact more fully with the native Britons. The central conflict in the book requires that the Romans and British cooperate, in spite of bureaucratic officials and partisan hot heads. This was a very satisfying book.

Update: I recently reread this, and was very pleased with the development of Thilla's character and the elaboration of her back story. It is a little slow in the middle, but that relationships are so complex and interesting that it was not hard to power on through.
Profile Image for Denise.
1,062 reviews
January 3, 2015
Love this series! Another adventure with Medicus Ruso & his native Britain wife, Tilla. Is there a body hidden in Hadrian's Wall? If so, whose is it? What has happened to a native child, who is a relative of Tilla's? How will Rus and Tilla solve these mysteries while dealing with the conflicts between the natives and the Romans. What blank slate is referred to by the title? Well written with great, realistic characters in historical situations.
Profile Image for Emma.
2,392 reviews821 followers
January 16, 2015
Really enjoyed the latest installment. I always enjoy these books but often find it hard to get into them but this one I got into straight away.
Profile Image for Kathy Davie.
4,654 reviews702 followers
October 27, 2014
Sixth in the Gaius Petreius Ruso historical mystery series revolving around a Roman army medic and his British wife. This story is set in the fort at Parva in Britain.

My Take
I like this one better than the last, Semper Fidelis , 5, and it seems to be heading back towards what I enjoyed about Downie’s earlier stories, even if that landslide is the introduction and a metaphor for how things progress in this story, all downhill.

For all the worry rebellion seems to cause the Romans, they don’t do much to be nice. They want to build a wall? No problem. Throw people’s furnishings and household goods out of their homes and tell them they can’t have their farm anymore. Looking for a missing soldier? No problem. Invade people’s homes and burn those homes down if the Romans think they’re lying. Conn certainly has a lot to say about Roman actions, and you can’t help but laugh and agree.
”We’ll help you round up all your men and beat them … You always think it works on us.”

Poor Ruso. He’s got all these entanglements because of Tilla, and he’s starting to see the British side of things. He loves her, I still can’t see why. But he sure does jump through the hoops for her. It doesn’t help that he sends troops hunting for his lost clerk, and they have no care for local sensibilities. Worse, he’s still thinking with his heart instead of his brain, although it is what makes him the man he is.

It’s interesting to note what the Roman army will punish and what it accepts. In some ways it seems very civilized, and in others, oh boy. Makes ya grateful for the Bill of Rights and the Geneva Convention. It’s disheartening as well to see how much we haven’t changed. Abusive men, trigger-quick tongues, leaping to conclusions, gossip… We still refuse to acknowledge the culture of others as Rome does when faced with a British poet.

Senecio being a poet is not what it seems. He's more bard, librarian, and the memories of his people. And one of the first people the Romans should have spoken with when they arrived. Instead, they dismissed him as crazy.

It’s an eye-opening time for Tilla as she learns the negative side of being a mother, learns more than she could imagine about her family, sees the rightness on both sides, and finally realizes the harm she’s been doing. Those medical books Tilla is reading are eye-opening as well as they haven’t much basis in normal people’s lives, and they make me think of those meal-planning diet guides that tell you to have a different juice or drink and bread for each breakfast and lunch. How can you expect to store all those different foods and use ‘em up fast enough?

Why would Ruso think his discovery could possibly clear Daminius? It does just the opposite!

Why don’t Piso and Lupus just tell the truth? They’ve already been caught in lies that will mean trouble for them?

I don’t get it. Ruso has been given a level of authority in looking for the boy by the tribune himself. Why hasn’t he taken advantage of this? He could have ordered up a few men to go with him?

At the end, what started up the ruckus? Why did they think Ruso was the child snatcher?

The natives will be celebrating Samain in this story, and Downie includes a few of its myths and legends.

The Story
It starts with an amputation dangling on dangerous ground and continues to slide downwards with rumors of a body in the wall, kidnapped children, and local anger over that wall being built across farmsteads.

A man who knew Tilla’s mother offers to bless their union, which gives Tilla a brief warmth of family until a young boy goes missing in a most disruptive way, fanning the embers of rebellion.

The Characters
Medical Officer Gaius Petreius Ruso is a Roman medicus for the Twentieth and has gained a reputation for solving mysteries. He's recently married the outspoken Tilla, a.k.a., Darlughdacha, a British native who received her Roman citizenship in Semper Fidelis , 5. She's been learning the medical arts and practices on the natives. The tactless, clueless Virana is a pregnant native Tilla took in and is currently working for Ria to pay the rent. Another tactless one with a mouth that won't stop, Aemilia is Tilla's cousin and married to a brewer, Rianorix, whom Tilla should have married.

Albanus is a friend and his former clerk, does Ruso ever miss him! He's sent his annoying nephew, Legionary Candidus, a.k.a., Perky, to Ruso to aid him in a career. Grata was the woman Albanus was going to marry.

The British natives
Senecio of the Corionotatae is the head of a native family who are incredibly angry at the Romans. He's also a poet who sings to trees. Enica is his wife. Branan is his youngest son. Conn is his oldest, a hothead, and a leader during the troubles. The Romans have a thick file on him. Dubnus was the middle son, killed during the last rebellion by a legion from the Twentieth.

Aedic is a young boy whose life has changed too much, leaving him with a sore heart. Petta is his uncaring stepmother, the woman who threw Conn aside. Lucano and Matto are brothers and bullies. Inam is a neighbor and friend of Branan's. Cata is a local girl seeing an abusive Roman soldier.

Ria is Ruso and Tilla's landlady and part owner of the local snack bar. Her husband is a baker and not averse to slipping Tilla free pastries in thanks.

The Twentieth Legion
Accius is the tribune and in overall command. Fabius is the local centurion, Ruso's superior (in name only, sigh), an absolute joke with an obsession for his health. It does pander to his need for drink, sleep, and laziness, *eye roll* Regulus is a plumber attacked by natives. Mallius is one of the quarrymen. Optio Daminius is a very honorable junior officer and Fabius' deputy — he's the only reason the camp runs as well as it does — with his hand in the cookie jar.

Peregrinus is a century of Fabius' and causing a ruckus at Regulus' door. Olennius is a builder who's found something.

The hospital
Doctor Valens is an old friend and a medicus as well; Serena is his wife. Prefect Pertinax is Serena's father, was a mentor to Ruso, and now simply terrifies them all. Gallús is Ruso's deputy. Nisus is the closemouthed pharmacist. Gracilis is the huge clerk come to take Candidus' place.

Larentia is a girl with that mole in the right place. Lupus is a slave dealer; Piso is his agent. Susanna is an old friend of Ruso's in Coria. Centurion Silvanus is in the next fort up the line, Magnis. The kitchen maid is the problem, as she belongs in every way to Fabius. Agelastus was a slave falsely accused of rape, he says.

Deva is where the legion will winter. The threefold death is a ritual sacrifice involving breath, blood, and food.

The Cover
The cover is odd. I do associate the grays and reds with Rome, but I’m not sure what the stone sculpture of a man’s back, his head tilted down, and his hands clasped behind his back means in relation to this story. Unless it’s meant to portray Ruso with all his worries.

The title is what Hadrian’s Wall becomes, a Tabula Rasa, in memoriam.
800 reviews2 followers
March 9, 2021
Things get a bit rough

Ruso and Tilla are up on the far north as Ruso is a doctor for the workers (soldiers) working on Hadrian's Wall. Ruso's clerk doesn't show up for work one morning...and is never seen alive again, but it's assumed he's AWOL trying to avoid gambling debts.
A child hiding in a tree sees a man bury a body in the wall, building the inside parts up to hide the evidence. He never sees the face of the man who buries the body. The boy, who os small for his age and a lot of it because he's underfed, is bullied by the other kids...and his stepfather amd brothers. It was how he ended up hidden in the tree when the body was buried. Not wanting someone to come after him, he claims a different boy saw the event when he is trying to get out of a thrashing by the bullies his age. The boy who, as far as the other kids know, is the one who saw the burial, soon ends up missing, taken by a man in uniform supposedly to visit Tilla. The locals blame the soldiers, who are generally nice to the boys and pay them to carry messages.
At the beginning of the book, Ruso is lowered down a spot where the overly wet ground has become a landslide, to free the prefect - who is also Valens' FIL - so he can be brought away from the landslide.
Tilla has found some family on the area because of an older man who recognizes her because of her resemblance to a girl he once loved. Senecio is the name of the patriarch, and he asks Tilla to bring her husband. Because of the landslide, Ruso is late, but arrives and apologizes. He's doing much better with British language. He discovers the older man wants to bless their marriage on Samhain, when the curtain between this world and the next is thin, so her parents have a chance to view the ceremony. Then 2 things happen: someone suggests a search for the missing clerk by soldiers idled by the landslide, and that all goes wrong. Ruso takes the blame for not supervising well enough, though the blame belongs to the one who suggested the search. Then the boy who supposedly saw the body be buried is stolen, further making for deteriorating relationships between Romans and Brittons s8nce a soldier had lured him away. Ruso and Tilla start trying to get information, Tilla asks around other boys and realizes the bullied-on-all-sides one actually saw the burial and why he didn't tell that he did is obvious by the constant arguing over his fate by his parents. Ruso goes very far afield, gets roughed up pretty badly. Tilla realizes something about Senecio. Tilla rescues 3 Roman soldiers from the 3 fold death over the lost boy, and Ruso holds up the farce by Tilla to keep the 2 sides from what would be a wider, more disastrous war/uprising.
Is there the happy ending that Tilla and Russo are praying for? Will the 2 sides stay in an uneasy peace? Do they find the boy and the clerk?
Profile Image for Katherine.
623 reviews28 followers
January 4, 2018
Ruso and his British wife, Tilla are back at the construction site of Hadrian's wall where Ruso's commanding officer has been trapped in the collapse of the quarry wall. Ruso finds himself removing the man's leg in order to extricate him from the muddy, unstable wall. Once this dangerous feat is complete, Ruso finds himself back at the hospital, short-handed since his clerk has been absent without notice for several days and his pharmacist is away on a fishing vacation. His old clerk, Albanus, is on his way to visit his nephew, Candidius and Ruso is quite anxious since the nephew is his new clerk, whom he has taken on as a favor.

With the anxiety of the missing clerk Ruso also has the stress of an evening meal scheduled at the home of Tilla's native relatives. The elder of the group has agreed to perform a wedding blessing ceremony for the two of them and is hoping to see the violence between the Romans and the Britons alleviated by the rite. All goes well at the evening meal and the night spent in the native's home. However, the disappearance of a local boy, the rumor that a body has been secretly hidden in the wall construction and an over-zealous search of one home and the burning of another by the Roman legion soon causes the unrest between the two groups to resume. Also, since the Roman action appears to have been ordered by Ruso the planned wedding blessing is canceled.

As Ruso and his superiors make the effort to locate the missing clerk, find the missing child, who appears to have been kidnapped by a Roman soldier and suppress the rumor of a body in the wall, Tilla takes investigation into her own hands. Working at cross purposes, it would seem, and with many false leads, the tension between Natives and Conquerors intensifies and before it erupts into violence a nine year old boy must be found safe and fast.

280 reviews
June 27, 2019
In Tabula Rasa the story is set near Hadrian’s wall (I would definitely recommend reading if you are going there to bring the past to life). At first Ruso’s missing clerk and the disappearance of a Native child seem like two separate problems; however, as the story progresses, the two stories become intertwined. The mysteries have a personal element in it for the two main characters, which helps tor raise the importance of solving the mystery as well as needing to help hold together the fragile peace that exists between the Natives and the Romans. Alongside a few darker moments there were some hilarious moments, that included a meeting with relations that included an embarrassing phallic necklace. All the storylines were brought together to a very satisfying ending with a few surprises.

For various reasons I have read these books out of order and therefore this my last in the series of Ruso and Tilla (for the moment) and I am really disappointed to be leaving them behind. As a whole, I have loved this series and Downie has done a wonderful job developing the characters and their storylines over the course of the series.
253 reviews3 followers
February 3, 2020
The centurion Pertinax, a former adversary of our Hero Dr. Ruso and the dissatisfied father in law of Ruso’s best friend Valens, is a very unhappy patient. This initial complication is magnified by Tilla finding long lost relatives who include an anti-Roman rebel and a soon kidnapped young boy. The British blame the Roman garrison, the garrison dislikes the British, and Tilla wants an old fashioned British wedding to supplement her Roman one.
Tilla also is trying to care for a very pregnant British girl who is not sure which Legionary is the father to be. But at last Ruso is accepting the idea of being a part time investigator and Tilla is trying hard to be a fairly Roman wife.
A lot of riding and negotiating are needed to solve their problems, as is a joint Roman memory of the Aeneid. Enjoy!
Profile Image for Michelle.
2,373 reviews15 followers
October 1, 2021
(3.5 stars) This is the 6th book in the series. Ruso and his wife Tilla have arrived at a Roman camp involved in building Hadrian’s Wall. Ruso is annoyed that his latest clerk has gone missing and begins to make enquiries. Tilla is trying to fit in with her extended family and also is continuing her medical practice as best she can. In the meantime, there are rumors of a body dumped in the wall. Ruso’s search ends up causing trouble for Tilla’s family and upsets their plans for a wedding blessing. He is also dealing with a commander who has had to have a foot amputated due to an accident at the quarry and wants to get back to work. As usual, Ruso makes things worse before he makes things better and must juggle his position as a Roman doctor with his marriage to a native wife. This was a nice addition to the series and life is about to change dramatically for the couple.
Profile Image for Natalie aka Tannat.
600 reviews5 followers
April 8, 2018
3.5 stars

This installment of the Roman Medicus series takes places near Hadrian's wall in northern Britain. Ruso's clerk disappears, and then a local boy disappears and there's tension with the natives in the form of demonstrations and the burning of houses.

There were some fun characters in this one, like the hypochondriac centurion Fabius and the pregnant, gossipy Viranna who's always on the lookout for potential husbands.

The novel does disappoint a little with its ridiculously quick and urgent labour and delivery near the end, but I guess the author just wanted to wrap things up. An exact time isn't given, but it doesn't seem like it could have been more than a couple hours.

Anyway, overall the book doesn't disappoint and I'll happily read the next one in the series.
103 reviews
September 23, 2022
Historical mysteries or crime stories aren't always favorite reads of mine. Sometimes they are too esoteric, sometimes the authors try to impose modern day sensibilities on ancient characters. Sometimes, too, I lose interest as I am not that familiar with the historical era. Or, I might be familiar with the historic era and lose interest if characters or action are inappropriate.

That said, the Roman Empire is not one of my favorite locales for storytelling. However, I enjoyed this novel as the characters were both believable and intriguing. I can't vouch for the historical accuracy, but found myself enjoying the plot twists. Things may have been tidied up a little fast towards the end, but not enough to take away from the story.

230 reviews
December 29, 2017
The latest Gaius Ruso mystery sees the Roman medicus involved in the case of a missing local child. A boy who may have witnessed a body being interred in the foundations of Hadrian’s Wall.
With discontent and distrust from the local tribes now compounded by the disappearance of one of their youngsters, Ruso must find the missing boy before events get out of hand. A tale of deceit and falsehoods, missing people, local customs and Roman rules, midwifery and hospitals.
Another great read in the series set against the Roman occupation of Britain with evocative descriptions of day to day life at the time. I'm really enjoying this series

Rob D
811 reviews7 followers
March 21, 2023
This was a random find at a library book sale.. no indication that it was towards the end of a long running series, but I definitely didn't feel like I was missing anything... it is sort of a mystery set in the Roman empire during the time of Hadrian.

The main character is a medicus with a Briton wife that gets embroiled with the locals when a child goes missing, which may or may not have to do with his own missing clerk and the rumor that someone hid a dead body in the section of the emperor's wall they were working on.

Fun, light story with a couple interesting twists... I might read another in the series if I came across it.

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