Detective / Historical / Ongoing series, 6 books
Divorced and down on his luck, Gaius Petreius Ruso has made the rash decision to seek his fortune in an inclement outpost of the Roman Empire, namely Britannia. In a moment of weakness, after a straight thirtysix-hour shift at the army hospital, he succumbs to compassion and rescues an injured slave girl, Tilla, from the hands of her abusive owner.
Now he has a new problem: a slave who won’t talk and can’t cook, and drags trouble in her wake. Before he knows it, Ruso is caught in the middle of an investigation into the deaths of prostitutes working out of the local bar. Now Ruso must summon all his forensic knowledge to find a killer who may be after him next.
With a gift for comic timing and historical detail, Ruth Downie has conjured an ancient world as raucous and real as our own.
This. Yes. I’m generally a sucker for anything related to ancient Rome, and this series is a treat. It’s slow-moving, but in a leisurely way, almost like playing an RPG: we wander along the streets of small towns and military camps in Roman-occupied Brittania, bumping into all sorts of strange fellows. It’s at time hilarious, at times sweet, sometimes a little suspenseful. I love Ruso’s awkwardness, occasional bouts of typically Roman machismo and his humanity. I know some readers aren’t big fans of Tilla, but I think I see what Ruth Downie is doing with her, and her character makes in fact a lot of sense, even if her decisions may not fit the traditional, modern set of values we rely on to assess characters.
My only qualm would be that Medicus disappoint a little in tension-filled scenes: those can be confuse and lack any urgency (this is very visible at the end of book #1, where you see the plot come together, but there’s no real sense of urgency, even as characters are dying and we’re in the middle of a messy, emotionally intense conclusion.
Note: I tested book #1 on Audible as well. I’m not a fan of the narration, it’s a bit too stilted, and they really should have hired a female voice to dub Tilla and the other women in the book: their lines are a bit cringe-worthy in spite of the narrator’s commendable efforts.