Friday, July 26, 2013

"Medicus" by Ruth Downie

(cover image from

Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire (2006) by Ruth Downie is a sort of historical mystery, with lots of humor.

I've seen complaints online that the book isn't historically accurate, but I neither know nor care about that. I'm not sure how much we know about everyday life in Roman Britain, anyway.

And I'm not a fan of historical novels. I don't even care much about the mystery in mysteries. I read these books for the characters, and I loved the characters here. And the humor.

Gaius Petreius Ruso is a doctor with the Roman Legion - a divorced doctor who's struggling with money problems. So the last thing he needs is to get involved with an injured slave girl. But his compassion gets the better of him, and he's soon stuck with her.

At the same time, he tries to avoid investigating the death of two prostitutes - at least one a clear case of murder. But he can't seem to put that out of his mind, either.

There is a mystery here, but for me, the characters make the book. Ruso is a decent guy who's always in trouble. He has money problems - family problems, basically - which he keeps trying to focus on. But everything else keeps getting in the way.

Tilla, the native slave girl, has a very different point of view. The Romans are her enemy - not to mention being nearly incomprehensible, especially the doctor who rescued her. Of course, Ruso doesn't understand her, either. (For one thing, he thinks he bought a cook, but she doesn't know the first thing about that.)

Ruso's attitudes are almost certainly too modern for his time. But then, we might not like him so much, otherwise. He sees nothing wrong with slavery, but he's still a compassionate guy. So he struggles to do what's right, given that his society's idea of "what's right" conflicts with his general good nature. And all of this is presented not just sympathetically, but humorously.

I loved it. It's just light-weight entertainment, sure, but the book was lots of fun. And although I'm not a fan of historical fiction, the details of medical care in Roman times are fascinating. (Yes, the author claims in an afterward, the Romans did do cataract surgery.)

This is the first book of a series, so I'll definitely be continuing with the sequel. If your tastes are similar to mine, I'd recommend the book. If you're really into historical fiction or mysteries, I really don't know if you'd like it or not. Again, to me, this is all about the characters and the humor.

PS. More book reviews are here.

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