Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Medicus; Ruth Downie

This is an historical mystery set in ancient Roman controlled Britain. Ms. Downie is a new to me author, there are two other titles in this series. The next one is Terra Incognita and the newest is Persona non Grata. The Hubby and I listened to this as we road tripped from home to mid-coast Maine and back again. Medicus was released in March 2007 by Bloomsbury.

Gaius Ruso, the eponymous medicus (doctor) has arrived in the wild and uncivilized territory called Britannica. He’s divorced, childless, originally from the south of France, and has served in the emperor’s army in rather warmer climbs. Ruso is his father’s oldest son, thus inheritor of the estate upon his father’s recent death. However, due to his father’s financial house of cards Ruso is forced to serve in the army to keep the estate afloat and to fund the upkeep of a large passel of relatives. Ruso appears to be a capable and caring physician, short tempered in the face of unyielding bureaucracy especially when it interferes with the good care of those soldiers who are injured.

Newly arrived in town, Ruso is out exploring and getting small errands done when he rescues a young female slave who is injured and being maltreated by her owner. Eventually Ruso ends up buying her with his last pocket money so that she will get treatment. Besides, he and his roommate Valens live in a filthy bachelor hovel that could use a little cleanliness. First he has to hide her & treat her and get her healthy.

Via performing an autopsy on a drowning victim, Ruso begins to poke around town asking questions about a few missing or murdered prostitutes. The prevailing attitude in the garrison, and even among some of the natives, is: “Who cares about some missing whores, really? Don’t you have better things to do?”Meanwhile, the hospital bean counter is making Ruso’s life hell, Valens is taking off at critical moments, and the female slave isn’t as grateful or compliant as Ruso thought she ought to be. Imagine that? LOL 

The critical thing to remember is that Ruso isn’t a detective, he’s a physician. That’s his worldview, his identity and the basis for all of his actions. What does this mean for the reader? It means that Ruso is slow and misses the obvious and is oblivious when suspicious things happen to him or others around him. Ms. Downie manages to find that delicate balance between shining a light on life in ancient Britain and not overwhelming the reader or the storyline.

As an audiobook, this worked quite well. The reader has a pleasant voice, although the accent made me wonder if a well traveled French military doctor would really have a British accent! Of course, I probably over think these things, so don’t mind me. Otherwise, we enjoyed this quite a bit. It’s funny, and some of the dialogue is very deft.

Image found on B & N

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