Summary and book reviews of Medicus by Ruth Downie

Medicus

A Novel of the Roman Empire

by Ruth Downie

Medicus by Ruth Downie
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2007, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2008, 416 pages

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Book Summary

Murder in Roman-occupied Britain sets the scene for the most original and compelling novel of the ancient world since I, Claudius.

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 won’t talk and can’t 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 he’s 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? It’s up to Ruso—certainly the most likeable sleuth to come out of the Roman Empire—to 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.

Excerpt
Medicus

SOMEONE HAD WASHED the mud off the body, but as Gaius Petreius Ruso unwrapped the sheet, there was still a distinct smell of river water. The assistant wrinkled his nose as he approached with the record tablet and the measuring stick he had been sent to fetch.

“So,” said Ruso, flipping the tablet open. “What’s the usual procedure here for unidentified bodies?”

The man hesitated. “I don’t know, sir. The mortuary assistant’s on leave.”

“So who are you?”

“The assistant’s assistant, sir.” The man was staring at the corpse.

“But you have attended a postmortem before?”

Without taking his eyes off the body, the man shook his head. “Are they all like that, sir?”

Ruso, who had started work before it was light, stifled a yawn. “Not where I come from.”

The description should come first. Facts before speculation. Except that in this case much of the description was speculation as well.

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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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).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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.

Kirkus Reviews

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.

Library Journal

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.

Reader Reviews

Jim Coffee

"Medicus" by Ruth Downey
Wonderful historical fiction, and a good mystery.

Joe Gangemi

Medicus
An excellent historical novel. Humor, mystery and historical facts blended into a very well written story.

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Beyond the Book

In 2004, Ruth Downie, a librarian from Milton Keynes, won the Fay Weldon section of BBC3’s 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 month.

Interesting Links:

Pictures of the Roman settlement of Deva (now known as Chester).

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