A serial killer is on the loose in Roman-occupied Britain, and Gaius Petreius Ruso is out to catch him... if he isn't killed first.
The Gods are not smiling on army doctor Gaius Petreius Ruso in his new posting in Britannia. He has vast debts, long shifts, and an overbearing hospital administrator to deal with . . . not to mention a serial killer stalking the local streets.
Barmaids' bodies are being washed up with the tide and no one else seems to care. It's up to Ruso to summon all his skills to investigate, even though the breakthroughs in forensic science lie centuries in the future, and the murderer may be hunting him down too.
If only the locals would just stop killing each other and if only it were possible to find a decent glass of wine, and someone who can cook, Ruso's prospects would be a whole lot sunnier....
The first novel in the New York Times bestselling Gaius Petreius Ruso series. With a gift for comic timing and historic detail, Ruth Downie has conjured an ancient world as raucous and real as our own.
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MEDICUS A Novel of the Roman Empire
By RUTH DOWNIE
BLOOMSBURY USA Copyright © 2006 Ruth Downie
All right reserved.
Chapter One 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.
Female, aged ... He spent some time frowning over that one. Finally he settled on approximately 18-25 years. Average weight. Height ... five feet one inch. At least that was fairly accurate. Hair: red, scant. That too, although it might not be very helpful if no one had ever seen her before without a wig. Clothing: none found. So no help there, then.
Three teeth missing, but not in places that were obvious. Someone would need to know her very well indeed to give a positive identification from that.
Ruso glanced up. "Did you go over to HQ for me?"
"I told them we'd got a body and you'd send the details over later, sir."
"Did you ask about missing persons?"
"Yes, sir. There aren't any."
"Hm." This did not bode well. Ruso continued working his way down the body, making notes as he went. Moments later his search was rewarded. "Ah. Good!"
Ruso pointed to what he had found. "If somebody turns up looking for her in a month's time," he explained, "we'll be able to tell them who we buried." He recorded Strawberry birthmark approximately half an inch long on inside of upper right thigh, eight inches above the knee, and sketched the shape.
When he had completed the description, Ruso scratched one ear and gazed down at the pale figure laid out on the table. He was better acquainted than he wished to be with the dead, but this one was difficult. The water had interfered with all the signals he had learned to look for. There was no settling of the blood to indicate the position in which the body had been left, presumably because it had rolled over on the current. The limbs were flexible, so that meant ... what? Men who died in the stress of battle often froze and then relaxed again much faster than was normal. So if the woman had been frightened or struggling ... On the other hand, how would the aftermath of death be affected by cold water? He scratched his ear again and yawned, trying to think what he could usefully write on the report that would not cause more distress and confusion to the relatives.
Finally he settled on Time of death: uncertain, estimated at least 2 days before discovery and gave his reasons.
He glanced up at the assistant's assistant again. "Can you write legibly?"
He handed the tablet and stylus across the body.
"Place of death," he dictated, then corrected himself. "No, put Location of body."
The man laid the tablet on the end of the table, hunched over it, and repeated, "Location ... of ... body" as he scraped with awkward but determined obedience.
"Found five hundred paces downstream from the pier, in marshes on the north bank," said Ruso, wishing he had carried on writing himself.
"F ... found ... five hundred ..." muttered the man, suddenly breaking off in midsentence to look up and say, "She could have drowned a long way upstream and come down the river, sir. But then, she might have gone in farther along and come up on the tide."
"Pardon?" Ruso blinked, taken aback by this sudden display of initiative.
Moments later it was apparent that although this soldier knew nothing about hospital administration and very little about writing, he had devoted his spare time to learning everything there was to know about the local fishing. The assistant's assistant's detailed description of all possible points of waterborne departure that could end in an arrival in the marshes on the north bank of the River Dee left Ruso baffled, but one thing was clear. In a land where coastlines shifted in and out and rivers flowed backward twice a day, anything that floated could end up a very long way from where it fell into the water.
"Point of entry into water unknown," he dictated.
The man paused. "I didn't get the bit before that, sir." Ruso repeated the location of the body. The man wiped a scrape of wax off the end of the stylus with his forefinger, flicked it away, and began to write.
There was a bird chirping in the hospital garden and a murmur of voices. Ruso glanced out the window. On the far side of the herb beds an amputee practiced with his crutches while orderlies hovered at each elbow, ready to catch him. A soft breeze wafted in, fluttering the lamps that had been placed on slender black stands around the table, burning for the soul of the unknown figure laid out beneath them.
The lamps lurched wildly as the door was flung open. The assistant's assistant looked up and said, "It's not her, Decimus," but the intruder still hurried to the table to look for himself.
Ruso frowned. "Who are you?"
The man clasped both hands together and continued staring at the body.
"Have you lost someone?"
The man swallowed. "No. Not like this, no, sir."
"Then you'd better leave, hadn't you?"
The man backed toward the door. "Right away, sir. Sorry to interrupt, sir. My mistake."
Ruso followed him across the room and barred the door before turning to the assistant. "Is there a missing person that HQ doesn't know about?"
The man shook his head. "Take no notice of Decimus, sir. He's just one of the porters. He's looking for his girlfriend."
"In the mortuary?"
"She ran off with a sailor, sir. Months ago."
"Why look in here, then?"
The man shrugged. "I don't know, sir. Perhaps he's hoping she's come back."
Ruso, not sure if this was an attempt at humor, tried to look the man in the eye, but the attention of the assistant's assistant remained firmly on the writing tablet.
Ruso looked down at the body. "Write, Cause of death."
The stylus began to scratch again. "Cause of ..."
"We'll start from the head down."
"We will start ..."
"No, don't write that."
"Just write Cause of death. Nothing else yet."
He frowned at the girl's head. The fishermen who brought the body in had sworn that they had done nothing to it, but Ruso was at a loss to explain the girl's hair. At first he had thought she was simply unfortunate. Now, on closer examination, he realized the patchy baldness was not natural. He ran one finger across the bristly scalp.
"Is this some sort of a punishment, do you think?"
"Perhaps she cut it off to sell it, sir," suggested the orderly.
"This isn't cut, this is practically shaved."
"Lice, sir?" suggested the orderly, suddenly sounding hopeful. "Maybe she went down to the river to wash out the lice and drowned."
Ruso took a deep breath of fresh air before bending down and holding the lamp closer to the body.
"She didn't drown," he said, lifting the girl's chin with the tip of one finger. "Look."
Chapter Two Ruso was still pondering the body in the mortuary as he walked out of the east gate of the fort. He was barely aware of his progress until he was abruptly recalled to his surroundings by a shout of "Get up!" from farther up the street. A man with a large belly was glaring at a grimy figure lying across the pavement just past the fruit stall. A woman with a shopping basket put down the pear she was examining and turned to see what was going on.
The man repeated the order to "Get up!" The woman stared down at the figure and began to babble in some British dialect. The only word Ruso could make out was "water."
"Burn some feathers under her nose," suggested the stallholder, bending down to retrieve a couple of apples that had tumbled off the edge of his display.
Ruso veered into the street to avoid the commotion and narrowly missed a pile of animal droppings. He frowned. He must try and concentrate on what he was doing. He had come out for a walk because he was unable to sleep. Now that he was walking, he was having trouble staying awake.
At the open shutters of Merula's he ordered the large cup of good wine he had been promising himself for days. When it came it was nothing like the Falernian it was supposed to resemble. He scowled into its clear depths. At that price and in this place, he supposed it was as good as could be expected. In other words, not very good at all.
The doorman watched as he drained the wine without bothering to add any water, and asked him if he would like to meet a pretty girl.
"Not before I've been to the baths," Ruso grunted. "Are you still serving those oysters?"
"Not today, sir."
"I'm sorry, sir ...?"
"So you should be."
Ruso wondered whether to explain that a dish of Merula's marinated oysters was the indirect cause of his present unkempt state and uncertain temper. He decided not to bother.
Yesterday, strapping a poultice around the foot of a groom trampled by his horse, he had composed an imaginary notice for the hospital entrance.
"To all members of XX Legion Valeria Victrix. While the chief medic is on leave, this hospital has three officers. The administrative officer has gone shopping in Viroconium and taken his keys with him. One doctor has severe food poisoning. The other is doing his best, despite having no idea what's going on because he has no time to attend morning briefings. Until reinforcements arrive, nonurgent cases and injuries resulting from drunkenness, stupidity, or arguments with drill instructors will not be treated."
Before the sun had fully risen today he had been presented with a seized back, a dislocated elbow, three teeth in the hand of a man who wanted them replaced, and the body. When he pointed out that the body was beyond his help, he was told that they didn't know what else to do with it.
Mercifully Valens-a paler and thinner version of the Valens who had eaten the oysters-had reported for duty this afternoon. Peering at Ruso, he'd announced, "You look worse than I do. Go and get some rest." Ruso, who had been desperate to sleep for the past three days, suddenly found himself unable to settle down.
A group of youths with army haircuts was sauntering across the street toward Merula's. As they entered Ruso murmured, "Don't touch the seafood." He was gone before they could reply.
Passing the bakery, he realized that he couldn't remember the last time he had eaten. He bought a honey cake and crumbled it against the roof of his mouth as he walked along.
Ahead of him, a chorus of excited voices rose in the street. He recognized the fat man, still shouting orders in a thick Gallic accent. The female who had collapsed had now attracted a sizeable crowd. They seemed to be carrying her to the fountain. Ruso tossed the last fragments of cake to a passing dog and strode on in the direction of the amphitheater. It was nothing to do with him. He was not, at this moment, a doctor. He was a private citizen in need of some bath oil.
He took a deep breath before diving into the perfumed dusk of the oil shop. He had placed his flask on the counter and was naming what he wanted when the shopkeeper's attention was caught by something behind him. The man snatched up a heavy stick and leaped out from behind the counter, yelling, "Clear off!" The dog that had finished Ruso's cake shot out from behind a stack of jars and scuttled off down the street.
The shopkeeper replaced the stick under the counter. "Somebody ought to do something about those dogs."
"Are they dangerous?"
"Only when they bite. Now, what was it you were after?"
Outside, half a dozen pairs of hands were dragging a limp body along the pavement to where the fountain, a large and ugly stone fish, was spewing water into a long rectangular tank.
The shopkeeper glanced up from the jug he was pouring. "Something's going on over there."
Ruso heard a splash as he said, "A woman fainted in the street."
"Oh." The man twisted the stopper into the flask and wiped the side with a cloth. Ruso handed over a sestertius. As the man counted out the change, more people began crowding around the fountain. Voices drifted across the street.
"Get up, you lazy whore!"
"Give her another dunk!"
"If you burn some feathers-"
"Stand her up!"
"Lie her down!"
"Lie her down? She does nothing but lie down!"
Ruso dropped the coins into his purse and emerged into the fresh air. He was not going to offer to help. He had been caught like that before. Poor people, like stray dogs, bred huge litters they couldn't look after and latched on to you with the slightest sign of encouragement. As soon as the whisper went around that some doctor was treating people for free, every case of rotten teeth and rheumatism within a thousand feet would be rounded up and thrust under his nose for inspection. He would be lucky to get away before nightfall.
A voice whispered in his memory-a voice he hadn't heard for almost two years now-a voice accusing him of being cold-hearted and arrogant. He silenced it, as he usually did, by recalling other voices. The Tribune's praise of his "commendable single-mindedness" (of course Valens had to ruin it later by explaining, "He meant you're boring"). Or the officer's wife who had smiled at him over her sprained ankle and said, "You're really quite sweet, Petreius Ruso, aren't you?" That memory would have been more comforting, though, if she hadn't been caught in the bed of the chief centurion a week later and been sent back to Rome in disgrace.
Raising his fingers to sniff the smear of perfumed oil, Gaius Petreius Ruso headed back the way he had come.
The sharp crack of a hand on flesh rang down the street.
"On your feet! Move!"
"Throw some more water on her."
A splash. A cry of, "Hey, mind my new shoes!"
Ruso pursed his lips. He should have stayed up at the fort. He could have helped himself to some of Valens's oil and used the hospital baths. Now he would sit in the steam room wondering what had happened to the wretched woman, even though he wasn't responsible for it.
"Wake up, gorgeous!"
If he managed to revive her, those comedians would take the credit.
"Turn her over!"
If he didn't, he would get the blame.
There was a sudden gasp from around the fountain. Someone cried, "Ugh! Look at that!"
A child was pawing at her mother's arm, demanding, "What is it? I can't see! Tell me what it is!"
Ruso hesitated, came to a halt, and promised himself it would only be a quick look.
The military belt was an accessory with magical powers. Several of the onlookers disappeared as soon as it approached. The rest parted to let its wearer through, and Ruso found himself staring down at his second unfortunate female today. This one was a skinny figure lying in a puddle by the fountain. She was still breathing, but she was a mess. The rough gray tunic that covered her was the same color as the bruise under one eye. Blood was oozing from her lower lip and forming a thin red line in the water that still trickled down her face. Her hair was matted and mud-colored. She could have been any age between fifteen and thirty.
"We're giving this girl some water, sir," explained someone with an impressive grasp of understatement.
"She's fainted," added someone else.
"She always faints when there's work to be done," grumbled the man who had been shouting at her. He bent as far down as his belly would allow and yelled in the girl's ear, "Get up!"
"She can't hear you," remarked Ruso evenly. His gaze took in the copper slave band around the girl's upper right arm. Below the elbow, the arm vanished into a swathe of grimy rags. The pale hand emerging at the other end was what had silenced the crowd. It was sticking out at a grotesque and impossible angle. Ruso frowned, unconsciously fingering his own forearm. "What happened to her arm?"
"It wasn't us!" assured a voice in the crowd. "We was only trying to help!"
The grumbler turned his head to one side and spat. "Silly bitch fell down the steps."
"Fell down the steps, sir," corrected Ruso, restraining an urge to seize the man by the ear.
Excerpted from MEDICUS by RUTH DOWNIE Copyright © 2006 by Ruth Downie. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
An unusual main character, The Medicus, Gaius Petreius Ruso, is an army doctor deployed to a brutish outpost in Roman occupied Britannia. He's a likeable, well-intentioned guy who finds himself meddling in death-investigations due to his innate curiosity and sense of justice. Severely overworked at the hospital and out on an errand, he finds himself paying money he can ill-afford, to purchase and thereby rescue a nearly dead slave, a woman he calls Tilla. Tilla believes in speaking her mind, Ruso does not understand women, and he has his work cut out for him in his dealings with her and the other cast of characters that revolve in and around the army hospital. This particular time in history is served up with a realistic sense of extreme hardship, filth and grinding poverty. Some very funny episodes are interspersed with the wretchedness of everyday life in those times, making for a well-balanced read. With a likeable cast of characters, Medicus is nicely written and easily readable, if not overly complex - a relaxing, enjoyable visit with the Medicus. I just purchased the sequel, "Terra Incognita" in order to spend some further time with Ruso and Tilla, and to see what new intrigues they find themselves involved in!
It could be because I have read the entire Lindsey Davis Falco series that this book seemed like an old friend from the first. Not Falco, but the Roman part was what made the atmosphere identifiable. Those who want non-stop roller-coaster action will not want to stop for a book of this exceptional quality of course, but those who do want to read these books will be rewarded with an easy way to learn some history painlessly. Of course we can't get too picky here. I do love the history of the Roman Empire, and Saylor's books are also good, but his are rather more violent and certainly don't give the balanced look at Roman culture like the Davis series does. I have not read the rest of Downie's series but am going to hunt down the rest of the books and certainly read all she has to offer in future of Dr. Ruse and his interesting vicissitudes through Britannia.
I'm not a reader of historical fiction, but I do enjoy a cozy mystery. As a cozy, Medicus worked very nicely. It's written with a humorous touch and, as is typical for cozies, the violence occurs "off-page". The protagonist, Gaius Ruso, thought that signing up as a medic with the Roman Legion on the west coast of Brittania would allow him to get away from the complications and expense that women inevitably bring into his personal and professional life. But within a few weeks of taking his post at Deva Victrix, women both dead and alive are messing up his attempt to live a quiet life in the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire, and he quickly ends up in debt. The men he works with — his old doctor friend Valens who convinced Ruso to come to Deva in the first place, and the pain-in-the backside hospital administrator — aren't making things any easier, either. The e-book has a number of editing errors, mainly between sentences. In some places the final period is omitted, and in other places a new paragraph is unexpectedly started in the middle of dialogue. Some chapters begin with an extraneous letter. There's also a quirk where the word "one" seems to have been italicized throughout the e-book. I didn't find these errors to be intolerable, but neither could I overlook them.
Ancient Rome from a fresh perspective. My favorite thing about this book, other than the setting, is the humor. I really enjoy how much the main character does not even want to be involved in what is happening. He's trying so hard to just be a doctor and do his job, but that is not what fate has in store - very amusing. Any fans of the time period should check this out. I enjoyed it so much that I went back and started watching Rome again.
Great, enjoyable read. Worth the time and money
Medicus is full of surprising twists and turns which lead to a somewhat unexpected ending, and somewhat predictable ending. Two military doctors in Roman England compete with each other to receive a promotion. One doctor is in the trade for the money and notoriety only, while the other does it because he believes in it and needs the money desperately. The two doctors live together and are in constant opposing views on any topic which comes up in the town they are stationed in. Good character development of the doctors and a few other key players, but a lot is left to be desired of the entire cast. For a historical fiction book, there was lacking any sense of history at all, it really felt more like a work of fiction only. More historical development of the period and characters would have been nice. One doctor gets involved in mysterious murders of local tavern girls which end up being a key role in both of the doctor's future. Good book, quick read, recommend only for light distracting reading.
By a fire in winter or by a window during a good rain storm, this story is perfect, light reading for escapism to another place, another time. The characters are relatively uncomplicated but still interesting for the situations they manage to get themselves into. I recommend it for a nice, mellow read.
Good characters. Interesting setting. Some plot holes but overall, a good read. I'll read the next book in this series.
A pleasant surprise.
this book was intresting and is a page turner
Sometimes the books assigned for reading in book clubs tend to dull the senses. Medicus by Ruth Downie set in early Rome displays interesting details of life during this time, but the writing style tended to make the story dull. Medicus is the term used for doctors, and the main character is a military doctor. The story explains the life of slaves and masters, and the terrible living conditions with mice and insects. This is the first of a series, but this reader will not continue reading this series.
Ruth Downie¿s first novel is set in 2nd century Britain, and its protagonist, Gaius Petreius Ruso, is a medic in the occupying Roman army. Action centers on the deaths of two women who worked in a local brothel and on Ruso¿s involvement with the attractive slave Tilla. Not that it matters too much to me, but in retrospect it¿s a little difficult to fit this book neatly into any specific genre. It has crime and detection, yes, but as a mystery it isn¿t particularly satisfying. It has shades of romance, but it¿s hardly a bodice-ripper. And although it¿s set in an historical context, it really doesn¿t dwell very much on its place or time. We¿re left with what the cover proclaims ¿ ¿A Novel of the Roman Empire,¿ or general historical fiction.I don¿t want anyone who reads this to think that I found this book worthless, but I think the author missed a lot of opportunities here. First, as a character study (and characters do motivate a novel) Ruso is a bit of a wimp. A moral, decent, man, he really falls into ineffectual action rather than controlling it. Second, this book really doesn¿t have the sense of place that I had hoped for. We get only the vaguest idea from the text as to the physical location of the action, Deva. Only in the author¿s afterword did I realize that the setting was present-day Chester, a city I know. I¿ve acquired the next two books in this series and will hope that the author kept improving with experience.
A decent story but a bit anachronistic.
I agree with gooutsideandplay -- the book was enjoyable but could have been so much better if the author had provided more period detail.
First in a series. Set in Roman Britain, the protagonist is a Roman doctor. Strong setting, good characters.
Medicus: : A Novel of the Roman Empire by Ruth Downie is about a divorced and female wary Roman doctor named Ruso who quite simply has terrible luck. First, he finds himself the owner of a very expensive and wounded female slave named Tilla who can¿t cook or obey any orders. Second, a dead prostitute from a local bar that sells poison oysters is found floating in a river and Ruso somehow finds himself in the middle of the investigation. And third, yes, there is also a third, Ruso¿s family in Gaul is in serious debt with creditors on their back. Ruso can¿t seem to save let alone keep any money, is behind on his concise guide to medical care, and the hospital administration is constantly on his back. There¿s no hope of riches or promotion in his future. Or having a decent hot meal.To put it simply, I loved this book. From the moment I picked it up, I didn¿t want to put it down. Though the mystery wasn¿t so much a mystery by the middle of the novel (I guessed the culprit, though perhaps Downie intended for us to get hints along the way and work this out), I still found how it unfolded very riveting. Also, Downie inserts a lot of humor into the novel and you end up feeling both sorry and amused by Ruso all in the same breath. Ruso is a very likable character because he is neither too unfortunate nor too impressive. In the end, Ruso comes out as an average man. Because Ruso was such an interesting and likable character, he sustained the story well enough for me when the plot waned.What about historical accuracy? In the end notes, Downie herself admits that information about Roman Britain is hard to come by and scant. She also confesses that some of her information is made up or exaggerated to move the plot along. The few books that Downie listed as sources are secondary sources, which are always to be used critically since their information may not be correct or unbiased. A few primary sources would have made her history more credible, certainly. A lot of the speech and infrastructure in Medicus was inspired by modern practices¿characters used words like `lad¿ and `bloody¿. Still, I was relieved that this book did not read like a textbook and that it did not focus around big names and big people. Yes, Julius Caesar marching on Rome was an amazing thing, but we should only have so many fiction books about it. It is nice to read about an average Roman.It was refreshing that Downie allowed me to use my own knowledge of Rome to fill in the gaps and set the scene rather than laying it all out for me in a tedious, fact rich way. Like I said, Medicus did not read like a textbook. In a way, it was taken for granted that the reader should know a little something about the Roman way of life. I may be better off than your average reader since I do know a lot about Rome to fill in blanks with. Yet, a non-scholar can still pick out a lot about Roman life such as that slaves were property and frequently abused, Romans wrote on wax covered pages with a stylus, Romans diluted their wine with water, etc. You won¿t finish this book without some idea of how Romans lived.
Highly enjoyable mystery. Fittingly, I read on the way to Hadrian's wall...
So what's not to love. We have a doctor who is just trudging along, be set by a large amount of burdens from his fathers debts to his divorce. We have a setting which is not the fast paced Londinium, but Deva, (Chester) a little out of the way, a little backwoodsy, a little slow.But this book opens so well. A coroners inquest, so we have a body, right at page one. But hey, this is the back end of the empire. Who cares.No one, and that is part of the problem that holds this back from getting a better rating from me. We have a wonderful world we see in glimpses, but then a lot of time is spent at the scene of the crime. Too much time. So now we have the red herrings of who did the murder and why. And still no one really cares. It is just a little academic challenge to disguise that the author has a love story she would rather be telling. Then in the notes we find out that some of the historical part of our our historical mystery is made up. Our hero has been worrying and trying to get a posting as Chief Medical Officer, often acronymed in the book. CMO. When he gets the CMO slot, his debts will be solved.We are given a great foil against his ability to achieve this, and the author stops this line. Then says there is no rank scheme that really covers what she has made up. So reading once will be enough. If the history was true, a return might be warranted, but it this is a fiction that could be more science fiction then historical.
enjoyed this historical novel set in britain during the roman occupation. i will be reading the next installment
meh. good enough to finish, but I was skimming by the end. For "historical fiction" there wasn't much history. Set in Roman Britain, there was little history or period detail to latch on to. Ruso is a Roman doctor in the Legion but there wasn't much detail for either medical practice at the time, or the Army. The characters were good enough to warrant finishing the book, but if you want Roman Britain go for Simon Scarrow or Hadrian's Wall by Dietrich.
Gaius Peteius Ruso is a sad-sack doctor with a heart bigger than is convenient in this historical mystery that takes place in the Roman colony of Brittania. Burdened with family obligations he tries to make do with as little as possible to survive. He eats leftovers from his hospital, he shares a room in a building slated for demolition with another doctor, he has sold all of his good furniture, and has to forward advances on his salary back home to his brother to cover debts left by his deceased father in order to keep the farm in Gaul in his family's name. The last thing he needed was to buy a young slave with a broken arm and no housekeeping skills. Poking his nose into the death of a woman who was found in the river probably wasn't good for him either.There is a wry sense of humor in this book as we follow him through his days and learn about the life of a doctor in a Roman military outpost. The doorman was, as Priscus had claimed, quite dead. He lifted the man's shoulders, then lowered him onto the counter again and stepped away. There appeared to be more than one wound, and all were in the back. It did not look like self-defense.There were a few scenes that seemed to be anachronistic but then I realized that they just showed that some things never changed. One scene reminded me of when I was undergoing surgery with local anesthesia and a little annoyed that the staff was discussing their plans for Christmas parties while I was awake and listening. In this story, Ruso and his friend are discussing the new emperor while setting Tilla's broken arm.I liked this protagonist and will try to find more of this series.
Medicus was well written and enjoyable. I read a lot of historical fiction but i haven't read much if anything about this time period in Britain. It was interesting to get the little snippets about the politics and daily life during this time. I also liked the medical references which seemed very advanced considering overtime most of this medical knowledge was lost and not rediscovered for centuries. I found the characters enjoyable and look forward to seeing their development in the subsequent books in this series.
Entertaining look at a legionary medicus in a backwater of the Roman Empire. One of the best features of the book is its insight into master/slave relationships: what were the legal limits, the social limits, etc. The mystery itself was well done and the clues were fair to the reader. Good enough to merit reading the second book in the series.
I thoroughly enjoyed Ruth Downie's debut novel about a Roman doctor on the edges of the Empire in Roman Brittania. The book is the first in a promised series. Our doc, Ruso, who's really from Gaul, not Rome, finds life away from the imperial center to be difficult in every regard - bad food, bad clothes, and bad wine - not to mention the weather and the natives. He went to Brittania to get a fresh start after a divorce and the death of his father, but Ruso's halting good intentions keep dragging him into deeper trouble as women from a local bar/brothel keep disappearing - or worse. The Romans did indeed have a well-developed bureaucracy and they brought it with them, including its myriad regulations and record-keeping. With bureaucracy comes bureaucrats and his problems with his chief administrator are nonstop. Fresh and wryly funny; Downie wields a lighter touch than Steven Saylor, not as polished, but not as worn either. Highly recommended.
Medicus is a mystery taking place in Ancient Rome (to be specific, Britannia). It features Gaius Petreius Ruso, a doctor working at the army hospital. He's i Britannia for a reason; to run away from several personal issues and to fix some (ie; family debt). Throughout the novel he's constantly plagued with a lot of misfortune and a lot of bad luck. He just happens to be at the wrong places at the wrong times. Ruso comes across and unwillingly takes a slave named Tilla who has her own plans up her sleeve (which I won't reveal, read the book!). Overall, there's been two women who were murdered and Ruso reluctantly takes the case even though he didn't want to be involved but since no one seems very interested in two dead dancing girls, someone's got to do it right?I like Ruso. Mostly because I find his misfortunes really funny and the way it's written it's as if he has a dark cloud hanging over his head for most of his days. There's comedy mixed into this mystery so it's not a heavy historical fiction. I would call it "lite" not in a negative sense, but rather, although the history is there, it's not so involved like in some historical mysteries I've read where there's heavy plotting, a lot of politics, and a lot of intrigue. Which is why Medicus makes for a good "lite" history read. I especially like the inner thoughts that run through Ruso's head. Throughout the novel, he says little tidbits in his inner voice that makes you want to snicker and laugh.He also has his friend Valens who is sort of like his sidekick/dumb friend which also adds to the comedy factor. If you place both of them together in a mouse infested dirty dwelling, you get "The Odd Couple" in Ancient Rome. It's a great laugh and a great read.Overall the characters are all right and agreeable. Except of course, the murderer but even then you don't really feel a strong hate for the character.My only criticism is, somewhere in between it does tend to slow down a bit. It could have been slightly shorter but perhaps extra plot and story was needed to tie all the strings together. I will be getting the second one in this series as I have enjoyed the first one. It's a good light read after a heavy epic.