In a series of novels between 1997 and 2001 that prolific Scots novelist Paul Johnston described an independent Scotland.

paul_johnston.jpg Paul Johnston

It is a grim picture he painted. The government in Edinburgh Castle has little influence over the hinterland. The highlands have become a wild and woolly place where few others dare to venture. The Hebrides have not been heard from in years. Whatever oil income there might be there is staying there. The European Union stopped admitting dole-seeking micro-states.

The result is a Scotland that lives off sex tourism for Arabs, Japanese, and Nigerians. Prostitution in a nationalized industry. And on it goes.

Edinburgh Castle is run by intellectuals who follow Plato’s concept of philosopher-kings.

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They argue among themselves about the Divided Line and the metaphor of the Sun, leaving the nationalized industry to auxiliaries.

I have taken a few liberties in the summary above to apply it to current circumstances. The books are narrated by an auxiliary who got demoted. The first was:
‘The Body Politic’ (1997)

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The others are:

‘The Bone Yard’ (1998)
'The Water of Death' (1999)
‘The Blood Tree’ (2000)
‘The House of Dust’ (2001)

I found them very amusing and they are recommended as krimies and as dystopias.

On a fine Saturday in a Sydney mid-winter I went to a public lecture at the University of Sydney in General Lecture Theatre One at 2 pm. This room is as steep as a ski jump and the grey audience, like me, took the steps slow and careful. Knowing the lecturer, I had something I wanted to give him, at the end of the talk, for another project. Accordingly I slowly made my way down to the front. All went well; there were no ominous portents.

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I have been to that room many times, and I knew that there was a back exit that avoided ascending all those steep steps. That was my advantage: local knowledge. As the talk drew to a close, I thought I would indeed take the back exit and miss those stairs with my arthritic knee. After a brief word with the lecturer, handing over the poster I had for him, and seeing the slow moving audience taking the stairs, I boldly pushed though the door marked exit at the back and then through a second door into the Vice-Chancellor’s garden, and just for a micro-second I hesitated, should I prop open the door just in case or push on. But if I propped it open, it would stay that way, and I did not want to be responsible for that. I may even have thought, without fully crystalizing it, that it was Saturday and not all doors might be open, but then there was a wedding party in the quadrangle when the lecture started, and the Nicholson Museum was open - I stopped in there to find the location of the lecture on the way there. In other words, everything is open for business. As I said, ‘boldly’ I proceeded, and the exit door slammed shut behind me.

The day was mild and I was in shirt sleeves, but it was July and when the sun goes down the temperature drops quickly from, say, 18C to 10C or less. The Vice-Chancellor’s garden is fully enclosed and gets little sun, as I entered it was already chilly. I hastened to the exit nearest to the mens toilet in the Quandranlge to relieve that need .... only to find it shut and locked. Ooops! Not too worry, I said to myself. I tried the other two doors. Same story. I went back to the door I had exited from the lecture room: Locked, and since it is well away from the lecture hall there was no point in knocking to gain attention. Stuck.

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If the doors were locked today, they would stay locked on Sunday, and Monday was a public holiday and so the lockdown would most likely continue. At some point, my wife Kate would miss me and wonder just how long that lecture was. Even so she would not immediately conclude I had trapped myself in the Vice-Chancellor’s Garden, and conjure a key to release me. She was more likely to think in terms of hospitals or alien abductions.

I could break a window, and that might set off an alarm; the windows are all too high to give access to any but a determined thief more agile than I am.

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Moreover, I had not brought my window-breaking tyre iron. If I waited for nature to take its course, it would be Tuesday morning when the doors open, about 72 hours to shiver and hunger, perhaps a fitting end, some would say, for me: hypothermia. After all those thoughts, it was time to act.

First things first. There are plenty of bushes in that garden, so I relieved the water pressure and took stock. Only one thing for it, really. I pulled the iPhone from my utility belt, well, just a plain pants’ pocket, and noticed the battery was only 30%, but surely enough for a call. First I used the web to find the University Security Service telephone number, and then I called it, and explained to a seasoned operator my predicament. (I inferred from his quick comprehension of the situation that it has happened before.)

The security operator said someone would be along as soon as possible. Hallelujah, I thought. The battery shrank after the internet use and the telephone call, but it was still only 45 minutes since the end of the lecture; Katie would not yet be wondering where I was. Security called me back twice to tell me someone was coming. My spirits soared. About one hour after the lecture ended, I heard the rattle of many keys and the shaking of a door. It drew me like magnet, and after some more rattling and shaking the door opened and there stood the angel of mercy, Doris, with a mighty big key ring, which she had fetched from the office.

I was effusive in my thanks. She concentrated on documenting the event for the records, putting my shame on file some where in Security.

Considerations of dignity made me hesitate to post this essay, but I decided to do so to thank the Security Service for getting me out.

I took no pictures during the confinement to save the iPhone battery. Web searching did not lead to any pictures portraying the Security Service of the University.

This is the first Maigret story published in book-form as ‘Monsieur Gallet, décédé,’ or 'Monsieur Gallet, deceased.' It has been published in an English translation as ‘Maigret Stonewalled,’ no doubt a marketing decision to make clear it is a Maigret title, and there is a stonewall of importance in the story.

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Simenon published eleven (11), yes eleven Maigret titles in 1931! Quite extraordinary was his prolific output. He had been publishing Maigret stories for some time and some of these novels had already been published as serials in magazines and newspapers, which came together into this first tranche of Maigret novels. It did not stop there. In all there were seventy (70) plus novels and still other short stories, and there were also some Maigret novels that he published anonymously or under other names, which, by the way, have never been translated into English. Point made. He was fecund.

2-simenon.jpg Georges Simenon in 1931 without a pipe!

In this story Maigret wears a bowler hat and is overweight and generally so unfit that a short run leaves him breathless and sweating for the rest of the day. His age is 45, and half of his life has been in policing. In the later novels very little is said about Maigret himself. It takes a lot of reading to find his first name. Madame Maigret appears in this title only at the end to welcome him home. It takes even more reading to unearth her first name.

He travels to Nevers and elsewhere, making several train trips back and forth, because he is a member of the Flying Squad, based in Paris, which deals with serious crimes throughout the provinces of France. It is high summer with oppressive heat. The setting is contemporary and in this 1931 France there is casual anti-Semitism, when someone is characterized as a Jew by racial qualities. The reference is casual and transitory but nonetheless there.

The novel shows Maigret’s compassion in his stubborn determination to understand Gallet. When Maigret meets Gallet he is already dead hence the title 'Monsieur Gallet, Décédé' as one might introduce a person,’ Mr. Smith, plumber’ or ‘Ms. Jones, judge.’ The title I thought was a play on that convention of introductions that seems to have escaped most publishers.

Maigret then sets out to find out about Gallet. What kind of man was he? What did he do? Why did he do it? How did that lead to his death? Maigret plods along, first interviewing the widow and son. If the heat is oppressive, the atmosphere created by Madame Gallet and the son is even more suffocating. They represent, in their own minds, a bygone nobility that ought not to have to speak to the likes of Maigret, and only do so to be rid of him. This is an attitude, Maigret suspects, that they extended to the deceased husband and father, who was, after all, a lowly door-to-door salesman, ... or was he? That is the mystery that is slowing unwound.

Who was Émile Gallet? That proves to be the decisive question. There is a great irony in the answer that, to my mind, Simenon does not quite nail.

The provincial hotels that Maigret visits while retracing Gallet’s last days are well drawn, with their staff, attendants, and the inevitable bar and tabac, and the blinding sunshine and stifling weather of high summer. If these are the agreeable features of the novel, there are some that are less agreeable.

I found the plot contrived and unbelievable. The explanation of Monsieur Gallet’s death is so complicated and incredible as to be irrelevant to the story. Equally, boring is the convoluted explanation in the last chapters of the swap of identities. At the end the blackmail angle was left hanging, yet it had driven much of the earlier action. I was never sure if I had it right about who was doing it and why. It, too, it is not nailed. Then there is that whiff of anti-semitism.

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At the outset I referred, carefully, to this as the first published book length Maigret. In the order of publication by Fayard that is clear. But other Maigret titles were written earlier, and were published in serials earlier, notably ‘Pietr-le-Letton’ or ‘Peter the Lett,’ as in from Lithuania. It all gets confusing and rests of definitions of ‘first.’

Penguin has commissioned new translation of the Maigret stories, as a means to reinvigorate the brand for a new generation of readers. So be it.

The man with no name owns a failing bookstore called 'No Alibis' in contemporary Belfast of Northern Ireland.

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He happily buries himself in 1940 film noir, lines from which pepper the little conversation he has, and the murder mystery books that line the shelves. He is introverted, self-obsessed, hypochondriac who has every kind of phobia. He lives at home with his mother. He has no friends, never been kissed, completely inept, and frightening intense. Altogether a total loser who is going no where, very slowly. In other words, it is easy to identify with him.

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Then Alison starts working in the jewellery store across the street. Using a large pair of binoculars he perves at her from this shop with what he thinks is great subtlety. In this surveillance he identifies with all those detectives on the shelves around him. 

The inquiry agent next door disappears, leaving many clients who come to the bookstore looking for him. The man with no name is drawn into some of their cases. He is a whiz at finding things through the internet and rather persuasive on the telephone where he almost seems normal.  Moreover, he has a network of subscribers to his 'No Alibis' e-newsletter with an array of talents, resources, and access that they can contribute to his quests. He picks some low-hanging fruit, and is quite proud of himself. Alison comes into the store, and they get acquainted. He brags to her of his detection.

It starts out as harmless fun, that is, until the first murder, then the second....  The bodies keep falling. The plot thickens. He goes into hysterical overdrive, flying off in many wrong directions at once. Alison wants to be his sidekick but he wants to quit! Murder, no way! 

A great setup and wonderful execution.  It is high octane once the action starts. The energy and irreverence rattles along with great pace.  I hope the others in the series keep it up.

This title looks self-published and it proves that such books can be very good indeed.

Colin_Bateman.jpg Colin Bateman

Bateman seems to write a book a week. He has several other serieses and stand-alone titles. I shall read on.

All the reading about presidents brought me to Garry Wills’s book on leadership. It is so much more insightful, intelligible, digestible, and accessible than James McGregor Burns’s ‘Leadership’ (1979), often cited as the book that created leadership studies. Burns tries to bring everything--and I mean everything--under the heading of leadership, the result is like those banquets when all the courses from the soup to the dessert appear at once. Too much.

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Wills’s book presents sixteen chapters profiling a leader matched with an anti-leader. His approach is informed by Max Weber, Thorstein Veblen, and Burns, but not with the straight-jacket such frameworks often produce. There is an opening discussion that separates leadership from management and from influence and a concluding chapter that emphasis context accompanied by thirty pages of notes. Though it reflects a great deal of study and research the book reads easily; I read it in one sitting.

Some of the usual leaders are rehearsed like Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln along with Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Mary Baker Eddy, Martha Graham, selecting leaders from sports, business, diplomacy, military, and more. The point is that political leadership differs from sports leadership differs from business leadership, and so on.

There is not a single thing Leadership that fits all cases. It is a simple point but it is hotly contested in both the popular leadership books and the academic literature on leadership. By the same token, to set leadership apart from management and influence is contested. Though both separations seem dead obvious to me but when I said so at conferences I walked into a firefight.

I learned more about Napoleon from Wills’s twenty page chapter than from the three biographies I have read, the shortest having 550 pages. They all had much more detail but less meaning than this chapter. The anti-leader set against Napoleon is George McClellan. Say no more. Though it is tempting to nominate Braxton Bragg who combined McClellan's incompetence with spite.

Wills's passing remarks contrasting Nancy Reagan to Eleanor Roosevelt won my applause. Now I know why I found the former so distasteful.

Eleanor Roosevelt 2.jpg Eleanor Roosevelt

Cesare Borgia is his example of an opportunistic leader and Wills’s main source on Borgia is one Niccolò Machiavelli. This is one chapter I read closely; yes, there were some I flipped through, admiring Wills’s breadth but not engaging with the substance. Borgia recognized that conditions change and success means both responding to those changes, and where possible anticipating them. Failure lies in ignoring or resisting these externalities.

100221726.JPG Garry Wills in 1994.

For every leader he included there are others omitted. Winston Churchill and Huey Long are absent. For every leader included there are qualifications. With age Napoleon lost the audacity that made him. For every leader included, there were mistakes. Franklin Roosevelt picked fights he could never win early in his career but he learned not to do that.

Years ago I read T. Harry Williams’s authoritative and massive biography, ‘Huey Long’ (1969) of close to 1000 pages, long before my current presidential biography program.

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Long aimed at the 1940 Democratic nomination, and to get it, he planned to put up a figurehead third party candidate like Father Charles Coughlin in 1936 for whom he would campaign vigorously.

Coughlin-1940.jpg Father Coughlin

That figurehead would split the Democratic vote insuring that Franklin Roosevelt would lose to the Republican nominee, one Alf Landon, governor of Kansas. With Roosevelt discredited, Long would offer himself as the savior of the Democratic party and run in 1940, being confident he could beat any Republican. Historical precedent meant nothing to Huey Long but there was one in the way Teddy Roosevelt split the Republican vote in 1912 leading to Woodrow Wilson’s election.

films-huey-long-details.jpg Huey Long

It is a plan devious enough for a Vice-Chancellor to appreciate.

Rather than re-read Williams’s tome I opted for a new look with William Ivy Hair’s ‘The Kingsfish and his Realm: The Life and times of Huey P. Long‘ (1991), an excellent book. It lives up to its title in a way a surprising number of alleged biographies do not. It is a fine piece of work, opening with two scene-setting chapters about Louisiana in the generation that reared Long. It is a shameful account of lynchings, mob violence, corruption, crushing poverty, rapacious corporations, murderous racism, rape, calculated impoverishment as a means of social control, murderous racism, all covered with a veneer of holier-than-thou Christian piety. The hypocrisy was as fetid as the bayou air in July. But this is the world the baby boy Huey was born to, and it turned out he could play its game better than anyone else.

He did not graduate from high school or college, yet gained entry to the Louisiana bar by combing buckets of smarm with pestilential persistence. In his early life he was a travelling salesman who sold anything to anyone, ice to eskimos, humidity to an asthmatic, books to the illiterate, Bibles to muslims, water to alcoholics, you name it. He was in fact a snake oil salesman for a time. From age sixteen for about ten years he travelled the backroads and byways of Louisiana, knocking at farm house doors, lintels at lean-tos, and talked to sharecroppers at the plow, and destitute woodsman on stumps. He had a prodigious memory and when he met someone a second time he asked by name about the wife, the mother, the brother. He also had an unnatural energy, sleeping three to four hours a night. If it was daylight, he was working. As fast as he made money, he spent it on cars, alcohol, and women. Note, most travelling salesmen of the era concentrated on small towns, not individual, isolated households. Years later when he campaigned for votes in these backwoods, he remembered enough names to astound, impress, and win over audiences. While he treated members of his entourage with contempt, he was always polite and respectful to voters. To be clear, it is memory. He did not keep a diary or write things down. He was in no way bookish.

From this early start his eye turned to political office when he was old enough, and the author suggests Huey had realized that was the metier where he could achieve not only material success but also power and social standing. He never tried physical labor, and the law, though a fine credential, was boring, yet he put on quite a show in court. But politics, well that was salesmanship writ large, and Huey was large, and he himself would be the product. He had no ideology.

Despite Long’s repeated claims to an early life of poverty, he was born to a middle class family and had a comfortable and stable home life. He was the second youngest of nine children. Like many sons he rebelled against his father, and the author sees in this a lifelong antagonism to authority (exercised by others over him). Ergo he always saw himself as a rebel even when acting the autocrat and conniving with the oligarchs who owned Louisiana.

When he was twenty-five, he met the age requirement for the Louisiana State Railway Commission, which in the wave of Progressivism at the turn of the Century-- successful in parts of Louisiana--had been made an elected office. This commission regulated railroads which were certainly important, but also waterways, electricity, telegraph, pipelines, roads, and telephone. Where others saw a sinecure to pension off retainers or buy off enemies, Long saw a stepping stone and went for it with all the energy and audacity that made him the Kingfish. He outlied his opponent five-to-one. Facts were no barrier to Huey. No doubt Karl Rove learned from Long’s example.

He out stumped him one hundred-to-one. No one had ever campaigned for this office before and no one since has campaigned with the intensity he did, taking the state by storm. His energy was remarkable for that semi-tropical state. He talked, shook hands, remembered names, told lies, and made ludicrous promises twenty hours a day from the doorway of shacks to villages of twenty lumberjack families, to the streets of small towns, from the back of wagons, anywhere he could find one person or more. He always got by three or four hours of sleep, though later in life once a week, every ten days, or a fortnight, he would collapse for a day or more and sleep eighteen or twenty-four hours.

At the outset he steered clear of the old money planation strip along the river and the cities of Shreveport, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans where the Ring dominated, it being the bayou equivalent of Tammany Hall in New York without the efficiency. He besieged these forts from without, though those secure inside hardly noticed it at the time. More fool them.

Louisiana had even more racial, ethnic, social and economic cleavages than most states. The most exotic were the Cajuns who lived mainly in the Florida parishes east of the Big Muddy and along its eastern shores. These French-speaking people were mainly Catholic, but there were Huguenot descendants among them. Remember ‘Evangeline’? I sure do. See the note at the end.

The post-Reconstruction state constitution gave the governor more power than in the other forty-even states. For example, the governor had the authority to dismiss local town councils. These power were included to provide a bulwark against the black population, least it win some local control. The example of Haiti remained a spectre for many. These autocratic powers had not been used until Huey Long came along. He lost his first bid for governor and learned some lessons from that experience.

While waiting for the next gubenatorial election he volunteered to campaign for an incumbent United States Senator who faced a difficult challenge. He was a whirlwind who galvinized audiences in person. He also made full use of the radio, which at the time many regarded as a passing novelty. That success brought him further opportunites to campaign for others. Pause. He did this work, and he really worked at it, not out of alruism or ideology, but because he was builidng up his contacts and proving to one and all he was a vote getter. When the time came, he pushed aside those he had earlier campaigned for and usurped their organizations.

The second time around he was elected governor, and the whirlwind became a tornado. He doubled the number of state employees, and required each to pay a Long dividend to his political organization of 15% of their wage, a practice that continued for years. Those who won state building contracts were required to purchase supplies from sources owned by those friendly to Long, and their number grew to get those contracts. He divided his opponents in the legislature by intimidation, bribery, and his preternatural perception of an opponent's weaknesses. He increased the power of the governor to the extent that every state employee served at his pleasure, and he hired and fired to get what he wanted, which was first subservience.

On he went. He won a Senate seat and put a stooge in the governor’s chair, and Long ran Louisiana from Washington, D.C. by telephone. He campaigned hard for Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, the two detested each other, and it was rare for anyone to get under FDR’s skin, but Huey did, and proved he could win voters over even in Republican strongholds like the Dakotas and Nebraska.

While he corrupted state government, bastardized the Senate election, and more, he was not personally corrupt in the popular sense. The money he raked in all went to pay his staff and fund his political campaigns against local opponents and for elections. He did not enrich himself. When he set his sights on the Presidency, which he certainly did, he stopped drinking, smoking, and swearing with a self-discipline no one thought he had. Yes, there were lapses. He married Rose young and she did not like the political life and as a result they lived largely apart. He had a long term mistress who worked in his private office, and that was that. He lived and breathed politics as a game to dominate opponents.

Then in September 1935 at forty-two years of age he was murdered in the foyer -- I saw the bullt holes in the wall in 2004 -- of the state capitol he had built. Why Dr. Weiss killed him is unknown and in that ignorance novelists and screen writers have poured in the usual human weaknesses, because they just do understand that Huey had no interest in women or money, but only in power.

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There is much evidence of Long’s presidential ambitious, starting with his efforts to campaign for others across the nation. This is a standard exercise for future candidates to this day. He took to the radio, buying national time with the funds he extorted from Standard Oil, to develop a national profile and following with his bizarre ‘Share our Wealth’ clubs which could offer the skeleton of a national campaign organization, and he produced a book he dictated to secretaries in 1935 called ’My First Days in the White House.’ Get it?

Even more important is that state capitol in Baton Rouge. It is a high-rise tower far beyond the needs of Louisiana.

Baton_Rouge,_LA_032210_016.jpg Louisiana State Capitol Building with a statue of Long between it and the Little White House.

It has forty-eight steps leading to the front door and each step is engraved with the name of a state of the union. It is a national building unlike any other state capitol. Across the mall from the capitol he built the Little White House with East and West wings. This White House is indeed white and its interior is decorated with motifs, murals, and memorabilia from all forty-eight states. There in Baton Rouge is an imposing capitol, a mall, and a white house. Get it?

The Kingfish was one of a kind. He was larger than life and achieved immortality from the hand of Robert Penn Warren, a poet with two Pulitzer Prizes for verse, and Poet Laureate of the United States twice. He wrote but one novel but what a novel, ‘All the King’s Men‘ (1947), and that too earned a Pulitzer. The opening chapter is hypnotic. A very young Warren had been a researcher for Senator Long. This book was the basis of the first of films portraying Huey Long in 1949 with Broderick Crawford, Mercedes McCambridge (before she went to the Devil in ‘The Exorcist’), and John Ireland. In 1995 John Goodman offered a creditable ‘Kingfish.’ In 2006 Sean Penn disinterred ‘All the King’s Men’ and made a hash of it. There have been many documentaries including Ken Burns’s with twanging banjo and the seasick camera moving over still photographs. The Paul Newman vehicle ‘Blaze’ in 1989, concerning Huey’s younger brother Earl, was a travesty. I boycotted his salad dressing for years afterward. Poor guy.

‘Evangeline’ was an 1847 poem by Henry Longfellow recounting the dislocation of 20,000 or so French settlers from a region called Arcadia in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the 1745-1755 period. To avoid British expulsion many moved voluntarily to Maine and further south. Those who transported went to Caribbean islands and to Louisiana. They joined the French settlers who had gone there from 1715. The original French were Huguenots escaping religious persecution in French, while the Arcadians were Catholic escaping religious persecution in Upper Canada. These latter became the Cajuns of the backwaters, hinterland, bayous, forests, swamps, and islands who developed a highly spiced cuisine to mask the tastes of water rats, snakes, bats, and such as was their diet. It is often red with pepper, chili, cayenne, and capsicum. Creole cuisine is much more refined in the French manner and its sauces are brown, thanks to the addition of butter. The rule of Louisiana cooking I learned is ‘If it is red, it is Cajun’ and ‘If it is brown, it is Creole.’

This is the story that inspired Longfellow’s 2000 line poem, which left an indelible mark on me. To a spotty eighth grader it was a INCOMPREHENSIBLE BORE THAT NEVER ENDED. We students wandered through the forest primeval of Longfellow’s dactylic hexameter for at least an eternity, and emerged older and none the wiser and just as spotty. In comparison Dante’s ‘Inferno’ was exciting.

The sixth adventure of Ruso and Tilla, he a Roman soldier and she a native; man and wife are they. Ruso is a medical doctor with the Roman Legion in Britain, and she a midwife. Ruso continues to be puzzled by the success of his friend Valens, who is bone-idle, no better medic than Ruso, and yet always gets the best posting, the fattest contract, the richest private patients. Tilla longs to reconnect with her family, most of whom died in when she was a baby. In truth, they were killed in an uprising against the Romans.

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Tilla tries, not very hard, to fit in as an army wife. Ruso tries, very hard, to accept her distant relatives. Despite all good intentions, each fails and the confusion, chaos, mayhem, ensues.

ilfracombe-library-7-march-2013-small.jpg Ruth Downie

The setting is the far north east of England along Hadrian’s Wall, the construction of which occupies every waking minute of the garrison that Ruso attends north of Newcastle-on-Tyne. Rumors that a murder victim’s corpse has been put into the wall spook everyone, Britons and Romans. The commanding officer’s only hope of promotion out of the bog - it rains sideways and every other way for months on end - is to meet the quota for his section of wall. He will not delay the work one hour, still less tear down what has been built to look for a body that may not be there. However, one legionnaire is missing, presumed AWOL.

Hadrians_Wall_map.png-800×995-Opera-01122011-222604.jpg Map of Hadrian's Wall

It gets worse. A native child goes missing. The only way to quell the rumors is to find the child and account for every man woman and child in the area. Moved to action, the Roman garrison searches in the way it knows how, with whip and torch.

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The locals, including Tilla’s relatives, retaliate. The spiral begins anew. Wiser heads pause to find common ground, after all it is one each: a Roman soldier and a British boy.

Though Ruso is terrified of becoming involved, because of the boy, the Britons will skin him alive or because of the body in the wall, the Legate of the garrison will crucify him, forbidding as these prospects are, he fears more Tilla’s reaction if he refuses to help her relatives, find the boy, trace the AWOL soldier or capture his murderer, and not disrupt the wall-building schedule in the rain, rain, rain. Neither the Legate, nor the mob of Britons can match Tilla for inducing action in Ruso.

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At the end, the Legate is impressed by Ruso, both as a medicus and a soldier, and offers him a private contract to accompany him to Rome. A private contract is real money, not the army wage! Rome! Where the sun shines. Where the food is...not British. Where the wine is not made from... Rome where there are galleries, theatres, ... Tilla hates the idea for those reasons. She prefers the rain, singing to trees, eating roots, all of which she avers are good for Ruso. Somewhere along the way they seem to have lost a horse and acquired a new born baby. We will see.

This is a superb series. Everything works. The setting is distinctive and brought to life. The characters are differentiated and substantial, none is a one-dimensional plot device. Though most of them live up to expectations, among them are some who can be surprising, as when the ramrod stiff Legate strips off his armor and kneels to talk to a decrepit old Briton man-to-man, not Roman conqueror to beaten subject. It takes Ruso longer than usual to realize what he has just seen, and even longer to figure why it happened.

There is enough medical detail to satisfy those interested but not too much to lose the momentum of the plot. A surfeit of 'blue herrings' (per Hercule Poirot) keeps the action going.

Best of all, though, is the marriage of Ruso and Tilla, so different and so complementary. She is quick and impetuous, he is slow and immobile. He plans ahead and she ricochets from one thing to another. She quivers with sympathy for slaves, waifs, suffering animals, trees, pregnant women, and he tries very hard not to get involved unless it is in the contract. He follows the Stoic way slowly and often silently; she laughs, cries, sings dances to the phases of the moon and whenever else the mood takes her.

She seldom lives up to her own high standards, because she cannot do everything. He seldom manages to stick to the contract. In those gaps, that is where the fun is.

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