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Monday, November 3, 2008

Recommended Reading: "Medicus" by Ruth Downie

The Roman Empire began exploring parts of the the island of Great Britain, called Britannia by the Romans, in 55 B.C., and made a full scale invasion of the island in 43 A.D. Roman troops were not withdrawn until 407 A.D., and Britain independence occurred in 410 A.D., the same year the Goths sacked Rome.

Medicus, a novel by Ruth Downie, is set in Britannia in about 117 A.D. In this light-hearted mystery, Gaius Petreius Ruso, the story's protagonist, is an army physician, recently arrived in Britannia from Africa. Ruso has had a run of bad luck, including divorce and a mountain of debts attached to the family estate he inherited from his father. While trying to cope with his own financial shambles, duties at the hospital, and army administration, Ruso gets involved with a mystery concerning the deaths of prostitutes working out of a local bar and the fortunes of an injured slave, Tilla, that he rescues from her nasty owner.

Ms. Downie's book is smoothly written. The story is engaging because of its dry humor and the compelling character she has created in Ruso. While Ruso is solving problems, both medical and murderous, he is often harried and exhausted but is always trying to do the right thing in backwater Britannia. All together, this makes Medicus a pleasant read.