Yune's Reviews > Medicus

Medicus by Ruth Downie
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's review
Dec 30, 12

bookshelves: historical-mystery

A forensic mystery set in Ancient Rome! How could I resist?

The tone is modern enough to be readable even by those who don't normally seek out historical fiction, I think. Gaius Petrius Ruso is a divorced physician stationed with the Twentieth Legion in Brittania when the unidentified body of a woman is brought to him for a post-mortem. The opening scene captures a lot of what I liked in the main character: dry humor -- Ruso is stuck with the mortuary assistant's assistant, whose note-taking skill leave something to be desired -- and a meticulousness that makes him revise "place of death" to "location of body." He's also a decent man, who purchases an injured slave so he can nurse her back to health.

She's ungrateful, of course; she's a British native who won't even speak to him at first, and Ruso ends up being forced to hide her in a brothel so she can convalesce. In the meantime, he contends with a supercilious administrative officer determined to nickel and dime the medical facilities; a smarmy roommate who snatches up all the best opportunities; a secret family debt he's desperately trying to pay off by being parsimonious; and a second dead woman.

Don't read this for any particular charm (I read comparisons to Lindsay Davis's Falco series, which kind of horrifies me); it's not particularly light-hearted, nor is our hero exceptionally clever. But he's a decent man who occasionally pokes his nose a little too far into things, and I liked that aspect, how he wasn't following the mystery like a dog with a bone. It just sort of kept being there to get bumped into, or lurking someplace where he could just possibly ask another question.

There's a lot of mundane everyday detail here, most of which rang true (especially the bureaucracy) without drowning me in a sense of Ancient Rome. I could see it boring some folks. And the slave woman's development into a respectable character was a bit fraught in my opinion, but satisfying enough in the end.

I'd pick it up for a quieter read if the premise appeals and you're not looking for sharp or glittery writing.

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