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Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire Hardcover – March 6, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (March 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596912316
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596912311
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (271 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #370,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.

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

Customer Reviews

This is just bad, boring writing.
joan svoboda
Because Ruso was such an interesting and likable character, he sustained the story well enough for me when the plot waned.
Valorie T.
I look forward to reading the next book in the series.
James Dainis

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

123 of 130 people found the following review helpful By Douglas S. Wood on April 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By R. Burrows on April 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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.
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49 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Dennis J. Buckley on April 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful By RichK17 on January 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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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55 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on June 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Sherry Christie on April 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm not crazy about cozies, which this novel is (most of the violence and all the sex take place offstage), but the main character, Gaius Petreius Ruso, is so engaging that I didn't want to stop reading. Ruso inhabits a vividly drawn world where the Roman army coexists uneasily with "conquered" Britons. A doctor at the legion hospital, he becomes an unwilling detective trying to find out more about the mysterious deaths of two bar girls. Along the way, he contends with situations that are very plausible, given the Romans' typical administrative efficiency: an upcoming imperial audit of the hospital's books, the need to get an advance against his pay, a supply room locked by the officious administrator, putting up his slave as collateral for a loan. Ruso maintains a sense of irony through it all, and you feel this man's inherent decency. Downie has done a great job with her first novel. I'm eager to see more from her.
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More About the Author

Ruth (RS) Downie graduated from university with an English degree and a plan to get married and live happily ever after. She is still working on it. In the meantime she is also the New York Times bestselling author of a mystery series featuring Roman doctor Gaius Petreius Ruso.

The latest book is Tabula Rasa, set during the building of Hadrian's Wall.

The previous five are:

Medicus (the first story, published as 'Medicus/Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls' in the UK and Australia)

Terra Incognita ('Ruso and the Demented Doctor')

Persona non Grata ('Ruso and the Root of All Evils')

Caveat Emptor ('Ruso and the River of Darkness')

Semper Fidelis (at last, only one title everywhere!)

Ruth is not the RS Downie who writes real medical textbooks. Absolutely none of the medical advice in the Ruso books should be followed. Roman and Greek doctors were very wise about many things but they were also known to prescribe donkey dung and boiled cockroaches.

Find out more at www.ruthdownie.com

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Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire
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