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 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.
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. Whats the usual procedure here for unidentified bodies?
The man hesitated. I dont know, sir. The mortuary assistants on leave.
So who are you?
The assistants 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.
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).
Full Review (717 words).
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 month.
Pictures of the Roman settlement of Deva (now known as Chester).
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