Reviewed by Anna F.
Working as a military doctor in Britannia, Ruso receives a letter with only the words “come home.” He takes his leave and travels home to Gaul with his British lover, Tilla. Upon arrival no one confesses to sending the note, the family is threatened with bankruptcy, and they are not willing to accept Tilla, a British barbarian in their eyes, into the family. The real drama begins when the man they owe money to is poisoned and dies in their house.
The title translates to “An Unwelcome Person,” which could be referring to Tilla, who leaves her homeland to travel with Ruso and help support him through his trials and troubles. She is unaccepted by his family, so finds comfort from the Christians that are starting to spread the message of love and acceptance of all. Her relations with the servants and the Christians, and her willingness to journey to find the truth ends up being vital to Ruso’s investigation of the murder.
Persona Non Grata turned out to be a very well thought out novel, with an intricate and dramatic storyline. Unfortunately, as the plot line continued to thicken, I struggled to care about the characters. Downie’s writing did not entice me. The murder mystery slowly unfolded with little suspense or intrigue. Each chapter started out with similar wording, “RUSO HAD HOPED,” “RUSO SURVEYED THE,” “RUSO SLAMMED THE,” etc. There was plenty of drama but no urgency.
Reading Persona Non Grata was like lackadaisically attending to Ruso’s errands. As this is the third book in a series of the Roman Empire, perhaps empathy for the characters was established in a previous novel. Tilla was the only character I cared for, as all the rest only thought about themselves, and Ruso has so much to worry about that his focus seemed scattered. However, Downie’s backdrop of a Roman historical setting, the vineyards, the city, the gladiators’ games, was one of her strong points.