Gaius Petrius Ruso is a divorced and down-on his luck army doctor who has made the rash decision to seek his fortune in an inclement outpost of the Roman Empire, namely Britannia. His arrival in Deva (more commonly known as Chester, England) does little to improve his mood, and after a straight thirty six hour shift at the army hospital, he succumbs to a moment of weakness and rescues an injured slave girl, Tilla, from the hands of her abusive owner.
Now he has a new problem: a slave who wont talk and cant cook, and drags trouble in her wake. Before he knows it, Ruso is caught in the middle of an investigation into the deaths of prostitutes working out of the local bar. A few years earlier, after he rescued Emperor Trajan from an earthquake in Antioch, Ruso seemed headed for glory: now hes living among heathens in a vermin-infested bachelor pad and must summon all his forensic knowledge to find a killer who may be after him next.
Who are the true barbarians, the conquered or the conquerors? Its up to Rusocertainly the most likeable sleuth to come out of the Roman Empireto discover the truth. With a gift for comic timing and historic detail, Ruth Downie has conjured an ancient world as raucous and real as our own.
Medicus is a light-hearted read with a strong contemporary feel. Although almost 2000 years separates us from Ruso, his problems are familiar: The bitchy ex-wife who never thought he'd amount to much; a lifestyle lived paycheck to paycheck while all the time wondering where his life went off track; squalid quarters and a roommate who's a slob; and endless bureaucratic infighting. (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Downie's auspicious debut sparkles with beguiling characters and a vividly imagined evocation of a hazy frontier.
Booklist - Allison Block
Starred Review. A strong start for Downie, whose series joins those by Lindsay Davis and Stephen Saylor on the ancient Rome beat but adds a bit more humor to the mix of period detail and suspense.
But the real achievement here is the lavishly, often hilariously detailed portrayal of the world that absorbs Ruso's exhausted wits and energies (Downie even manages a few good jokes about English cuisine). And in cheerful mutual insults exchanged between Ruso and his colleague and rival Valens, we hear again the effervescent voices of M*A*S*H's Hawkeye and Trapper John. And Ruso is a wonderful character, fueled by a dyspeptic machismo and sullen charm reminiscent of Harrison Ford in his heyday. A charming novel.
The plot is suspenseful and fluidly told, but the evolving bond between master and servant is at the heart of this excellent first work, as Downie carefully details the pained conscience of the former and the latter's sorrow that both her family and her country have been ravaged. Highly recommended.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Joe Gangemi Medicus An excellent historical novel.
Humor, mystery and historical facts blended into a very well written story.
In 2004, Ruth Downie, a librarian from Milton Keynes, won the Fay
Weldon section of BBC3s
End of Story competition;
Medicus, her first novel, was first
published in Britain as
Medicus and the Disappearing
Dancing Girls, but simply as Medicus in the USA. The second in the series,
Terra Incognita, was
published in the USA and UK last
Pictures of the Roman settlement
of Deva (now known as
Of all the great figures of the Roman world, none was more fascinating
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