Our book today is actually a re-read, though you’d never guess to look at it! Just recently at a library book sale (about which more soon) I came across a paperback called Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls by R. S. Downie. The author’s name sounded vaguely familiar (as familiar as it possibly could to somebody as bad with author names as I am), but it was irrelevant anyway, since one of the many rules of library book sales is that something called Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls must always be bought. So I added it to my pile and eventually lugged it all the way back to Hyde Cottage, where it was soon churned through the combine of my book-intake process, where every new books is handled, submitted to the dogs for inspection-licks, inscribed in pencil with a small sigil so that I can tell at a glance that a certain book was once mine (the greatest extent to which this has ever worked was when I was browsing a used book stall in Paris and found a book I’d originally bought used in Hermosa Beach, California – the journeys books take utterly fascinate me), noted in the utterly useless and never-consulted written inventory I keep, and then released into the animal sanctuary that is my personal library, never to be seen again.
It was during this process that I read through the first few chapters of Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls and immediately knew that I’d read it before (author names might be trouble for me, but I try never forget content). This is Medicus, which I actually wrote about here on Mystery Monday last year! Same book, different, much, much, much better title.
This is the UK edition of the book, whose title makes it sound much more like the involving adventure story it is, rather than the American title, which makes it sound like the pimply-faced younger brother of Quo Vadis.
And the humor of the thing doesn’t stop with the different title: right there on the front cover is a simulation wax stamp bearing a tempting offer for all those browsers in the Julian Forum: “As Good as Lindsey Davis … Or Your Sestercii Back”! The puckish publisher elaborates:
If you genuinely disagree that Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls is not as good or better than any scroll (or book) published by Lindsey Davis then please send a wax tablet (or letter) inscribing the reasons for your dissatisfaction along with your copy of the book to … etc. …. The Purchaser is responsible for all messenger trials and tribulations (postage and packaging costs) incurred in sending the book.
That had me chuckling even before I decided to re-read the book itself, and it also had me reflecting on the differences between the American and the British markets, since some friendly palaver like that would be utterly impossible in hyper-litigious America. It wouldn’t be out in the marketplace ten seconds before some American was suing the publisher not for his money back but for payment in actual Roman sestercii, claiming emotional damages in the range of four million dollars and promptly putting the publisher out of business. Needless to say, boring old Medicus came with no such offer.
And as unscientific as it no doubt is, I enjoyed the book better this second time around because it had a better title. Go figure.
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