Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire Paperback – Mar 4 2008
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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 the Audio CD edition.
*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 the Audio CD edition.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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!
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.Read more ›