Beware, this book has also been published under the title of Medicus and the Disappearing Dancing Girls.
This is the first book in what will become the Medicus series. It is a novel set in Roman Britain and introduces a new author R. S. Downie. This is certainly her first novel, although I do not know if she has written any factual material. The fact that she is female may be an omen, after all Lindsey Davis writes what is probably the most successful Roman series with her `Falco' detective novels.
The main character in this novel and the one I am sure will become an old friend to the reader in future books is Gaius Petreius Ruso, a divorced and down-on-his-luck army doctor, who has made the rash decision of attempting to make his fortune in one of the far flung reaches of the Empire, namely Britain.
A doctor's life is not always a happy one, particularly when they are usually watching you and screaming while you take their arm off or pull their blackened teeth out. A swift tap on the head usually alleviates these problems, but is not looked upon as good medical practice.
After arriving in Diva, modern day Chester and spending hours on the wards in the fort, by some stroke of fortune or maybe misfortune he rescues an injured slave girl, Tilla. She is a pretty little thing, but brings a whole boatload of trouble with her. Not least the locals taking umbrage and starting to beat the sh-- out of one another.
As I've said before anything about Rome or Romans is a must read for me, but this book is for everybody, well researched, witty and most of all enjoyable. I can't wait to read more of Ruso and Tilla. I am sure the partnership will mature and become as enjoyable to the reader as Falco and Helena or Gordianus and Bethesda.
on 24 May 2010
If you like stories about Romans such as Simon Scarrow, Conn Iggulden writes or any other's with lots of battles and strategy you may not like this however....what you will find is a great story that you'll want to keep reading.
Ruso the main character is a doctor with the Roman army in Britain, specifically Deva (modern day Chester). He finds himself over worked and in debt and trying to pay off the debts of his family back in Rome and a farm in Southern Gaul.
To make his busy life more complicated he 'inherits' Tilla, a Briton who has been injured and had her arm broken by an abusive owner. She is 20 years of age, beautiful and has some secrets of her own.
Although not a swash buckling tale, it is nevertheless very well written, giving you a different view of life in Roman Britain. Ruso is put through the mill and his already busy life is made even more complicated when a murderer starts killing some of the local girls.
If you like Roman tales I would recommend this to you. I for one enjoyed it and will be looking for other titles by Ruth Downie!
on 9 October 2013
I really enjoyed this novel, even though it differs considerably from what I usually read about the Roman period - my usual fare being anything from Hagan, Riches, Kane or Scarrow. Two things drew me to the novel - first, that it was a little different, coming from a "crime/detective" angle and concerned a Medicus rather than your average legionary, and secondly that it was written by a woman. I'm always up for new takes on the genre and I tend to find that female authors writing about ancient Rome paint a different side to the same old coin covered by their male peers, and they are all the better for it. I wasn't disappointed with Kate Quinn, and Ruth Downie has not let me down either!
I really enjoyed this novel because not only does it tell a tale of ancient Rome from a Physician's eyes, but does it so damn well. The writing was sharp, funny, witty and intelligent. The main character is nicely developed and pretty likable, and has a pretty interesting back-story. The author has given the novel and the characters quite a lot of depth without losing herself in too much detail. Even then, she paints a vivid and realistic portrayal of legionary life from a Physician's perspective, and more so from that of one having to deal with layers and layers of bureaucracy and administration, something seldom if ever covered by similar authors. In itself, this was a remarkable job because not once did it become dull, as anything to do with red tape generally is. I thought the development of the feelings from Ruso towards Tilla, his slave and eventual love interest, was very well handled and progressed as I would expect it to. I find a lot of authors struggle with this, with relationships either becoming too flowery and over the top, though usually with the main characters falling in love with each other instantly with no exposition - not the case here. It took its time and was pleasant and engaging to read.
This is pretty much true of the novel as a whole - there is just enough tension developing slowly over the course of the novel, with each clue and event compelling you to keep turning the pages. I really liked the ancillary detail and plots weaved into the novel as they really add to the depth and keep the plot fresh - Ruso's book, his backstory, Valens and his gimmicks, the puppies, the actual practice of medicine, etc. I found it all very informative but above all entertaining.
My only gripe with the novel is that it could have done with a little more research. A few aspects of the plot were a little anachronistic, such as a Roman army fort and its Medicus taking care of murder victims and their investigations, and maybe the layers of administration imposed by Priscus were a little exaggerated. I have no doubt they were highly organised and liked to keep records, but if they did it how it is portrayed here I'm sure a lot more of their writing would have survived. But these are just minor points on my part, and at no point did I find it grating or distracting. Unlike some other reviewers, at no point did I think this novel could be set "at any time".
Lastly, I thought the plot itself and the mystery of the dancing girls was both believable and entertaining. In the end, the culprit was both, to me at least, unexpected but a likely candidate, and one which I eminently did not foresee. The investigation was never over the top, and the author does a good job of portraying Ruso as being somewhat reluctant at getting involved.
All in all, I thought this was a brilliant read, and I can't wait to get started with the next installments of the series.
on 14 October 2011
Given that this book is about Rome, or at least Romans in Britain, it is a no-brainer that I would want to read it. However, the reason it has passed me by until now is that it is a crime novel. This genre is not my favourite, it has to be said. I ended up buying a copy in June when I had the good fortune to meet Ruth Downie at the Roman Festival in Chester. I started reading it a few weeks ago, and was instantly engaged and delighted by its central character, the hapless, kind, curious surgeon Ruso.
This is a wonderful and well-written story, full of rich detail of the time. Downie has a deft touch with humour, tragedy and drama. The pages of this book turned themselves, and I was sorry to reach the end. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and will be moving swiftly on to the next book in the series.
Ben Kane, author of Hannibal: Enemy of Rome.
on 3 February 2012
I loved this book. It's set in the second century AD in Deva, modern day Chester, and the central character is a doctor in the service of the Roman Army. He's a very sympathetic character and you really root for him as he gets involved in investigating some rum goings on at the local tavern. There's a lot of wonderful period detail, some not very nice medical stuff and some rough trade all overlaid with a wry sense of humour.
on 25 August 2015
Yippee! As a lover of historical fiction and crime, I now have another interesting character through which to explore the past. Gaius Petreius Ruso is a Roman army doctor based in Britain, in what will become Chester, and a reluctant detective. I can't wait to read others in the series.