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Medicus [Paperback]

Ruth Downie
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 2 2008
“The highest praise I can offer this wonderfully entertaining portrait of the Roman Empire at its most far-flung is that I hope Downie is planning a series. Ruso is too good a character for just one book.”—Malcolm Jones, Newsweek

Divorced and down on his luck, Gaius Petreius Ruso has made the rash decision to seek his fortune in an inclement outpost of the Roman Empire, namely Britannia. In a moment of weakness, after a straight thirtysix- hour shift at the army hospital, he succumbs to compassion 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. Now Ruso must summon all his forensic knowledge to find a killer who may be after him next.

With a gift for comic timing and historical detail, Ruth Downie has conjured an ancient world as raucous and real as our own.
Published in the UK as Medicus (Ruso) and the Disappearing Dancing Girls.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

The salacious underside of Roman-occupied Britain comes to life in Britisher Downie's debut. Gaius Petrius Ruso, a military medicus (or doctor), transfers to the 20th Legion in the remote Britannia port of Deva (now Chester) to start over after a ruinous divorce and his father's death. Things go downhill from there. His quarters are filthy and vermin-filled, and his superior at the hospital is a petty tyrant. Gaius rescues and buys an injured slave girl, Tilla, from her abusive master, but she refuses to talk, can't cook and costs more to keep than he can afford. Meanwhile, young women from the local bordello keep turning up dead, and nobody is interested in investigating. Gaius becomes a reluctant detective, but his sleuthing threatens to get him killed and leaves him scant time to work on the first-aid guide he's writing to help salvage his finances. Tilla plots her escape as she recovers from her injuries, and just when Ruso becomes attached to her, she runs away, complicating his personal life and his investigation. Downie's auspicious debut sparkles with beguiling characters and a vividly imagined evocation of a hazy frontier. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Fans of Alexander McCall Smith will delight in this series debut set in Roman-occupied Britain and featuring wry army doctor Gaius Petreius Ruso. Newly divorced and burdened with the debts of his late father, Ruso finds himself in a ramshackle military outpost with miserable weather and minimal supplies. Ruso's new job gets off to a rocky start when he's called upon to examine the corpse of a young woman who drowned. Then, after a long shift of tending to the sick, the cranky but charitable doctor rescues an injured slave girl from her sadistic owner. His good deed earns Ruso unwanted attention from a hospital administrator whose attempts to cover his bald spot are both desperate and hilarious. It also lands the medicus in the middle of an investigation into the deaths of two local barmaids. Through it all, Ruso wonders what has become of his life. Celebrated as a hero a few years before for rescuing Emperor Trajan from an earthquake, he's now sharing a residence with a doctor of questionable morals and a flurry of seemingly indestructible mice. 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. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Mystery and Engaging Characters Sept. 8 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I do love a good novel about ancient Rome, and it is quite obvious that the writer has done her homework.
The Ruso is a beta hero and endearing because of that; the heroine is smart and courageous. The conflict
of custom and values makes this sort of novel really interesting. And the mystery! The hero is pushed into
working on it; it just won't go away and it takes both hero and heroine to solve it. Love it!
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5.0 out of 5 stars We have a winner July 29 2009
By Prairie Pal TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Historical mysteries are a popular subgenre and rightly so. Readers are introduced to interesting places and times while they wrangle with solving the puzzle that the author has placed before them. Numberless authors have tried their hands at the game but few really succeed.

There seem to be two basic approaches: either attempt to create a world that is exotic and alien or make a distant historical period seem modern. Writers like Paul Doherty and C.J. Sansom opt for the former route and populate their pages with strange customs, offensive smells and formal pseudo-historical speech patterns -- "God's wounds! What do you here, mistress goodwife?", etc. Lindsey Davis takes the latter approach in her series centering on a Roman public informer: the hero is a wise-cracking investigator who would not be out of place in Los Angeles or New York. Ruth Downie is also of this ilk and we soon feel at home on the fringes of the 2nd-century Roman empire.

Her hero Ruso, a surgeon with the Roman army occupying Britain, is not terribly quick with his wit or his sword; he is rather a lovable loser. He is in debt, maladroit in his relations with his superiors and plagued by writer's block -- he will never finish his masterpiece on military medicine. But he does have a good heart and his essentially kind nature gets him into trouble with murderous thugs, corrupt officials, unreliable room-mates and a beautiful slave. I very much enjoyed "Medicus" and am glad to see that there are successors to Ruso's adventures.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A Nice Lite Historical Read. July 17 2009
By Karoline TOP 500 REVIEWER
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.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bland but Beguiling May 6 2008
By microfiche TOP 1000 REVIEWER
I correctly guessed the villian on first appearance, so I can't call it a good mystery.

Doctors Russo ("the grumpy one") and Valens ("the handsome one") bear some resemblance to Hawkeye and Trapper John (their situations and housing accomodations are certainly comparable) and the hospital administrator is a bit of a cross between Frank Burns and Major Winchester, and Marula is almost as cheeky a bar manager as Rosie was; but there is only a vague resemblance to the characters of the television series M*A*S*H*. Both groups of doctors are sweating and freezing it out in a country their country is occupying - a country very different and "uncivilized" compared to home, and that seems to be the strongest connection I can make to the blurb touting the resemblance.
Tilla is a determined girl who can take care of herself - even with a broken arm - because she must. She wants to die, but for some reason she can't fathom, her goddess keeps putting rescuers (such as Russo), captors (such as Roman patrols) and people in distress she must help(such as a friend about to give birth) in her way.
I felt interested in these three characters; but I did not feel much drive in the plot. When Tilla escapes, Russo is concerned, but does not make much push to find her. He doesn't make much push to find out why his bed caught fire or why Tilla thinks another near fatal accident was no accident. He seems to avoid thinking about that mystery or the one about the dead brothel girls until nearly the end of the book, when Tilla might become the next victim and he wakes up and starts to do something - and even then Tilla ... well, you'll find out when you read the book. And there was no surgical details.
Lindsay Davis's Falco stories have much more punch and a much more pro-active protagonist.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  216 reviews
119 of 126 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fresh and Funny April 9 2007
By Douglas S. Wood - Published on
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.
48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Auspicious Start April 19 2007
By Dennis J. Buckley - Published on
This reviewer, for one, hopes to hear more from Ruth Downie. Her first novel, "Medicus," is a pleasing tale set in Britain during the heyday of Roman occupation.

The plot, itself, is a bit predictable but workmanlike. Character delineation is strong, particularly in the persona of her protagonist, the ever-harried medicus of the XX Legion, Gaius Petreius Ruso. Downie is a perceptive observor (and chronicler) of male perspectives. Her artistry is in conveying through Ruso some male traits and thoughts that are universal and timeless.

Where Downie also shines is in her uncanny ability to evoke the atmosphere of an era and place that we really know relatively little about. She uses the facts that we do know about Britain in the second century to bring us the "feel" of the time and place.

Overall, an elegant and pleasing novel.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A close-up view of Roman Britain April 7 2007
By R. Burrows - Published on
This is an absorbing story with a good basis in historical fact. The central mystery -- who is killing native Briton bar girls in a rough garrison town -- is well plotted, and though we suspect the villain early on, the working out of how and why is interesting.

The book's real strength, though, is that the mystery is interwoven with a good deal of information about clothing, food, urban architecture, military organization and the relation between Roman masters and native Britons. Downie is very skilled at describing how the town looked, its dirt and smells, the variety of trades, what people wore and what they ate and drank. She also creates a plausible picture of the relationship between the Romans and their subjects -- what slavery meant to individual Britons and the variety of personal relationships among slaves, free subjects and Romans. If you are at all interested in Roman Britain, this book is an entertaining, easy way to learn more about colonial society.
54 of 65 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay, but needs spice June 27 2007
By Bruce Trinque - Published on
Like Tilla the slave's cooking, "Medicus" could use some spice. The basic story, involving a Roman army doctor newly assigned in 117 AD to a legion in Deva (Chester), Britain, who unwillingly gets involved in the investigation of the murder of a tavern prostitute, is competent and the protagonist is reasonably likable, but there seems to be an absence of zest to the secondary characters and setting. Comparison with Steven Saylor's "Gordianus the Finder" novels and Lindsey Davis's "Marcus Didius Falco" tales are inevitable. I would characterize "Mediucus" as being less thoughtful and serious than the former and less brash and sassy than the latter. If "Medicus" should prove to be the first volume of a series, I think I would bypass the hardcover editions and wait for the paperbacks, but it is possible that with experience the author may cook up a more satisfying entree next time. "Medicus" is not a bad debut, but neither is it wholly exciting.
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing Jan. 8 2008
By RichK17 - Published on
The author seems to have very little interest or knowledge of ancient times. All of her characters have modern day motives and sensibilities. I learned absolutely nothing from this book. According to her note at the end of the book she was trying to make a parallel with modern day slavery. I think she would have been much better served writing her story set in modern times as she was pretty good at building up suspense and interest. She just lost me because I simply did not believe any of these people were truly from the ancient world.

At one point she describes soldiers walking past in a courtyard eating fried chicken and I wondered to myself is it extra crispy? and what sides had they chosen?

If you want to read an author who seems to truly capture the motivations, loves, interests, feelings, traditions and roles of people in the ancient world I would highly recommend Steven Saylor. He makes me feel like he has opened a window to another world to me while this author just made me stop and say this is not plausible.

Good historical fiction allows you take on the perspective of people who lived, loved and died centuries before I was born. All the protagonists in this book seem to have the same perspective as people today. How can that be? And what is the point?
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