A Roman medical detective investigates

2008-07-09 00:00

THIS is the second Medicus investigation: Gaius Petreius Ruso is a doctor with a Roman Legion stationed in Britannia, never any Roman’s favourite posting (because of the foul weather and abundance of unhappy conquered tribesmen).

He travels with the troops north to the border (soon to be fortified with Hadrian’s Wall), taking with him Tilla, a slave with whom he has more than a master-servant relationship. Forced to linger at a fort because of medical duties, he is drawn into the case of a murdered soldier. Mixed up in this are a local deity, Tilla’s friends and relatives (the despised natives) and a demented doctor confessing to murder.

Comparisons with Lindsay Davis’s long-running Falco Roman investigator series are inevitable, but Downie has chosen a different part of Roman life and a different set of social constraints for Ruso. Like all good investigators, he’s a bit of a misfit. And like all good detective stories, things are not what they seem in this Roman border town.

Ruso — dedicated, wry — doesn’t emerge as a completely realised character, but this may be simply because the series is young.

Ruso and the Demented Doctor is a very light read, spiced up by an interesting setting that raises some social issues, and by a detective with a real career that is in itself fascinating.

Kate Hoole

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