Ruth Downie is an English author of mystery & thrillers and historical fiction books. She is famously known as the author of Medicus Investigation series. Ruth was born and raised in the beautiful West Country in North Devon and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.
Medicus is the debut novel in Medicus Investigation series by Ruth Downie. In her series opener, Ruth makes use of tensions that exist between British locals and Roman army to create a fantastic historical setting and a thrilling page-turning mystery.
We are introduced to a roman army medical officer named Gaius Petrius Ruso trying to keep up the appearances for his bankrupt family without letting the knowledge of how bankrupt his father slipped out. But when an old army friend named Valens requests that Ruso join him in a desolate outpost of the Roman Empire, Ruso grabs the opportunity to make some money and probably get a chance to get away from his ex-wife. Of course, Ruso’s friend had mentioned the surly natives, miserable weather and the hospital admin that Gaius would meet while in Britannia.
Gaius is trying to get by until the promised army bonus from the emperor and payday when the body of a girl is brought into the hospital which sets a local mystery in motion. The soft-hearted roman army medic can’t stop himself from snooping especially when a second body is discovered. Additionally, despite sinking in debts, he can’t stop himself from “purchasing” an injured slave girl and treating her broken arm.
It’s almost impossible not to like Gaius Ruso whether he is trying to work on his guide to field medicine or having it out with the hospital administrator. He just needs to be left alone to work and get money to pay off his debts, but each effort only gets him dragged into the unpleasant situations with the unwelcoming natives. The author makes the same remarks about the dire English weather and the unpleasant British natives. This is what a Roman would exactly think of the lands far beyond the empire after the beautiful Mediterranean weather in Rome and indoor plumbing, but again finding a British author explain how desperate the weather and the culture are in Britannia is always funny.
One of the elements that stand out in this book right from the first page to the last is Slavery. The buying, selling of human beings, over exploitation, treatment as commodities, abuse, is the nasty aspect of the perverted roman culture. The author does not shy away from this element but actually makes it the center of the narrative.
Our first encounter with slavery is in the first few pages of the second chapter. It is in this second chapter that we come to discover that Gaius Ruso has an inborn empathy that he has suppressed so that he can survive in the barbarous society. It’s important to note that Roman society often viewed compassion as sign of weakness that every man had to overcome. It was only spread by Christians who were against slavery and the torture and killing of animals and humans for entertainment. So Ruso, a roman doctor must, therefore, hide his compassion and struggle with the torment that evil continually creates.
The story takes place in 117 A.D after Trajan, the Roman emperor dies and is succeeded by Hadrian. If you know some Roman history, then you will know that it is during this transition when the defense of the Roman empire were strengthened and also the construction of the protective wall in Northern England.
Medicus is a Novel of the Roman Empire, and it’s not considered as an ancient Roman mystery book since it’s not one. The book bears a close resemblance to Rosemary Sutcliff’s book Eagle of the Ninth in how an underlying mystery supports the dramatic narrative. The underlying principle of the two books is how the different cultures, Celtic and Roman co-existed and eventually formed Britain. This “marriage” was only possible as many of the Roman soldiers bedded with a local woman.
In Medicus, this union of Celtic and Roman is illustrated by Tilla and Ruso. Tilla’s relationship with Ruso moves through the story from an oppressed slave to eventual respect, trust and love that can only exist between equals. Some of the section in the first book in the series is narrated from Tilla’s point of view. Tilla and Ruso have so much in common. They are both people who have fallen on hard times, they both live in a land that’s not home, and both are proud of their heritage. They struggle with their strong religious faith which is often shaken by the evil around them. They seek a purpose in life, have a code to adhere to and live up to very high standards.
Terra Incognita is the second book in Medicus Investigation series by Ruth Downie. It is the story of a Roman army medic and his servant named Tilla. Gaius Ruso finds himself caught up in the middle of murder when he is escorting his servant back to her village with the hopes of seeing her father again.
On their way, they make a stop at an Inn and Tilla sneaks outside during a storm to check on a lady whose baby she had just delivered. But then suddenly hell breaks loose as Tilla comes to face to face with what she believes to be the Horned God Cernuous.
Gaius is forced to go to a Roman outpost and leave a wounded caravaner in the hands of the medic on duty there, only to learn that no bad deed goes unpunished. Gaius is enlisted to stay by a commanding officer because someone has been murdered and the outpost Medicus has gone mad as he tries to both straighten out the facility and discover who the killer is.
Things take a twisted turn and Ruso soon finds himself in the middle trying to stop the war between the outpost and Tilla’s village, hunting down the killer and keeping an eye on his servant who seems to have a mind of her own and the tendency to disappear.
Books in order of publication:
Medicus Investigation Books
|Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls aka Medicus||(2006)|
|Ruso and the Demented Doctor aka Terra Incognita||(2008)|
|Ruso and the Root of All Evils aka Persona Non Grata||(2009)|
|Ruso and the River of Darkness aka Caveat Emptor||(2010)|
|A Year of Ravens||(2015)|
|Bear and the Wolf||(2017)|