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Medicus Audiobook

Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire

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Publisher's Summary

Gaius Petrius Ruso is a divorced and down-on-his-luck army doctor who has made the rash decision to seek his fortune in an inclement outpost of the Roman Empire, namely Britannia. His arrival in Deva (more commonly known today as Chester, England) does little to improve his mood, and after a 36-hour shift at the army hospital, he succumbs to a moment of weakness 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.

A few years earlier, after he rescued Emperor Trajan from an earthquake in Antioch, Ruso seemed headed for glory: now he's living among heathens in a vermin-infested bachelor pad and must summon all his forensic knowledge to find a killer who may be after him next.

Who are the true barbarians, the conquered or the conquerors? It's up to Ruso (certainly the most likeable sleuth to come out of the Roman Empire) to discover the truth. With a gift for comic timing and historic detail, Ruth Downie has conjured an ancient world as raucous and real as our own.

©2007 Ruth Downie; (P)2007 Tantor Media Inc.

What the Critics Say

"Downie's auspicious debut sparkles with beguiling characters and a vividly imagined evocation of a hazy frontier." (Publishers Weekly)
"Fans of Alexander McCall Smith will delight in this series debut set in Roman-occupied Britain and featuring wry army doctor Gaius Petreius Ruso." (Booklist)

What Members Say

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  •  
    T. L. Walker Montgomery, Al, USA 07-05-13
    T. L. Walker Montgomery, Al, USA 07-05-13 Member Since 2017

    Sometimes the appropriate response to reality is to go insane. Reviewer at BiblioSanctum.

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    "Excellent Beginning to Gaius' Adventures"

    This story follows military medicus (doctor) Gaius Petreius Ruso who is a Roman man living in Brittania (England). He's escaped to the Brittania to heal from a disaster of a marriage that ended in divorce and the death of his father that left the family with many undue debts to pay. Brittania is considered a backwater town but important nonetheless. It's too small to be considered grand, but too large to be ignored by the Romans. As if going from everything to having nothing wasn't bad enough, women continue to bring trouble for Ruso after he examines a dead woman found in the river and rescues a slave from her callous owner.

    This story takes place during a time when modern medicine was just beginning to emerge. Doctors were regarded as suspicious conmen and "healers" still ruled surpreme. I loved how Downie weaved that into the story, showing how doctors began to record treatment and discover new ways to deal with various medical ailments and conditions. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Ruso ushered around the new doctors in training and reveled in their naïveté after one fainted (and the others just barely made it out) when Ruso showed them a particular gruesome case. The description made me chuckle because it was just so Ruso-like.

    Ruso is a bit cynical and serious, but he does have a little bit of a dry comedic side. He's very sure of his abilities as a medicus almost to the point of cockiness, but unlike his friend and fellow medicus, Valens, he keeps to himself in a world where knowing the right people means everything. He often feels awkward in social situations and almost always says the wrong things in his mind, so he tends to keep to himself. His bedside manners are cool because he's a man of logic, even by his own admission, but Ruso cares more about people more than he shows. This care extends beyond mere medical interest, but he's not sure how to "fix" people beyond what physically ails them.

    Ruso complains that he shouldn't get involved in certain matters, but still he finds that his underlying compassion and concern causes him to do the exact opposite, which is how he ends up "investigating" a murder that he insists he's not investigating. He's also terrible at being a hard ass as shown when he became Tilla's "master." Tilla is just one of a group of ragtag friends he picks up during the course of the story which includes the charming Valens who thinks that Ruso needs a new wife, an overenthusiastic scribe named Albanus, and a dog he claims not to care for. He complains about them, of course, but I don't think he'd know what to do without them.

    Despite all the elements that could make this a complicated story to listen to, it was very easy to follow. Nothing really went beyond my grasp or caused me to pause and rewind just to make sure I was understanding what I'd heard. Downie didn't use language that was too complicated, and the things that seemed a little unfamiliar she was able to explain in the simplest terms, even when it didn't really seem necessary. However, this was a surprisingly light listen. I was afraid that I would get partway in and decide that I need to read the book rather than listen to the audiobook.

    One of the chief complaints I'd heard about this book was that the language was "too modern," but that's the usual complaint of many historical fiction settings ranging from books to television. I wasn't surprised to hear the complaint, but it just seems like old news now since many shows and books take this approach. I think that's because it makes it easier on the reader and the writer. How many people would really be interested in reading this if written in the style of that time? What writer would stick to writing a story in such a style? It would be tedious for both the reader and the writer. I agree that maybe some word choices absolutely were too modern, but that's such a nitpicky thing. However, I can only say that it doesn't bother me. Your mileage may vary.

    My chief complaint is that, while I liked Ruso, he could be a bit annoying at times. I'd get mad at him for how he tried to treat Tilla, calling her property and trying to force her to call him master, even though he was terrible at being bossy--at least to Tilla. He does show a surprising amount of sexism that can be a bit annoying, too. Not because it's sexism, however. This is ancient Rome era we're talking about. It's annoying because it's obvious that he's not as sexist as most, but has defaulted to sexism because of his general disillusionment due to a bad marriage, which is understandable but so frustrating. Some of his actions were so obtuse to the point that I had to wonder if Ruso was okay mentally at times. An example being how he wanted the rumors about him investigating the murder to stop since he "wasn't investigating," but he made it his business to ask every person around if they'd heard he was investigating the murders. Really, Ruso?

    As far as the narration goes, Simon Vance is quickly becoming one of my favorite narrators. He has a voice that is perfect for reading. This will be the third book I've listened to with him as the narrator and he never fails to impress me with his read. He's remarkable; his narration is always so impeccable. I have never encountered a narrator with such clean narration skills. Also, he understands that timbre not pitch determines how realistically a female voice will come across when reading, and even when faced with multiple female speakers in one scene, he gives them all their own personality that makes them easily discernible one from another.

    The only real complaint I have is that he's a fast talker. I tend to speed up my audiobooks between 1.25 to 2.0 times faster than normal. With him, I have to get used to the pace he's keeping before I can speed it up, but that's really a trivial complaint when compared to how extraordinary he is as a narrator.

    This was a great opening for the series, and I look forward to following more of Ruso's misadventures as narrated by Simon Vance.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tammi 11-08-07
    Tammi 11-08-07
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    "Good sense of place and time"

    The author has a an excellent way of making the reader perceive the ancient Roman empire as modern and vibrant.

    10 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Judith A. Weller LaVale, MD United States 11-13-08
    Judith A. Weller LaVale, MD United States 11-13-08 Member Since 2008

    jw1917

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    "Great Mystery set in Roman Britania"

    I love mysteries set in the Roman Empire. This one is unique in so far as it is set in Britania instead of Rome itself. Emperor Trajan has just died and Hadrian is the new emperor. The author has really captured the flavor of Roman Britain with all its vices. The hero, as the name implies is a Doctor, so we get to learn about medical practices in the Roman Empire. Our hero has angered just about everyone he possible can and is beaten and threatened throughout. It is both humorous and exciting. But all ends well. The reader is great and really makes the characters come alive. Hope to see more of this character. Great listen - very enjoyable

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
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    Petrik Los Angeles, CA, USA 08-17-07
    Petrik Los Angeles, CA, USA 08-17-07 Listener Since 2001
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    "Decent book, so-so narration"

    As someone who enjoys historical fiction and the themes tackled here, I expected to like this book. And in fact, the story was quite good. A bit dry and mundane at times, I wished for more medical situations and details, but it's a fine debut for Mrs. Downie. If only the narrator did a better job -- I kept falling asleep! Actually, I ended up borrowing the hardcover from the local library to finish it over the weekend :)

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Margaret San Francisco, CA USA 04-29-13
    Margaret San Francisco, CA USA 04-29-13 Member Since 2008
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    "Delivers a whooping good story"

    I don't know how I missed Ruth Downie and the Russo series, but since the first book was published in 2007, it must be true which is a bummer for me. But, on the good side, there are now four more novels in the series ready to download without any waiting. Discovering a new series is one of the best things that I spend my credits on!

    I realize that people who are very particular about historical accuracy might find Medicus trying, but I have no such standards. I thought it was great! There is a strain of sentimentality in the work that is more common is "cozy" mysteries, but that charmed me right away.

    I hope the next book holds to the same tone and builds the momentum so well done in Medicus. I'm going to download book two now. Fingers crossed.

    9 of 11 people found this review helpful
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    Ant the Limey Pennsylvania 03-11-07
    Ant the Limey Pennsylvania 03-11-07 Member Since 2004
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    "great book"

    The story is pleasing, the tone is enjoyable. The characters are fantastic. The narrator is good (not Scott Brick good, but only 3rd narrator I want to try books based on his voice).

    I can think of nothing bad to say about this bood. I heartily recommend it

    25 of 32 people found this review helpful
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    Bonnie Bellmore, NY, United States 08-14-07
    Bonnie Bellmore, NY, United States 08-14-07 Member Since 2013

    BJS

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    "An enjoyable surprise"

    I didn't expect much, but soon found I was looking forward to what would happen next. Fun with a twist.

    15 of 19 people found this review helpful
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    John S. Seattle, WA United States 02-27-17
    John S. Seattle, WA United States 02-27-17 Member Since 2016
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    "Excellent start to a series!"

    A while back, I tried to get into the much-acclaimed Marcus Didius Falco series, and just couldn't. So, when I saw this book on sale as an Audible Daily Deal, I thought for a couple of bucks, why not? Turned out a wise move.

    I bonded with "Medicus" (Doctor) Gaius Ruso as a character right away, nice guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. Downie does an excellent job of showing that everything old is new again, at one point having Ruso go through the frustration of getting the hospital administrator to approve payment for a patient's eye operation by a London specialist. The mystery angle pretty much stayed in the background until the end of the book, with the focus on life in Roman Britain. Though it was a long book, things never felt bogged down; the comedic aspects were never over-the-top either.

    Simon Vance's narration was a perfect fit for the material - can't wait to listen to the sequel!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David 12-31-16
    David 12-31-16 Member Since 2017

    Indiscriminate Reader

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    "Pleasant, light, not terribly historical"

    This was a perfectly pleasant little historical mystery with engaging characters tuned to appeal to a progressive, 21st century audience.

    Medicus is set in 1st century Roman Britain. Gaius Petrius Ruso is an army doctor stationed with the legions. He's got family troubles, money troubles, job troubles, and all he wants is some time to finish this book he's been writing, and maybe a promotion to Chief Medical Officer of the garrison hospital. The problem is, he's also burdened with a basic sense of decency that doesn't allow him to turn his back on an abused slave girl. And of course, when he ends up taking her in at his own expense, he's much too decent to rape her, beat her, or sell her, or do any of the other things that Romans actually did with their slaves.

    While ostensibly a historical novel, Medicus is written, throughout, as if it were basically a contemporary story. The author deliberately takes historical situations but frames them the way their modern equivalents would see it, so Gaius, while practicing ancient Roman medicine, sounds very much like a modern medical doctor, and his career difficulties (wanting to be promoted to CMO, having an affable playboy colleague who scores all the women and the promotions, bureaucratic tussles with a penny-pinching hospital administrator, etc.) could come right out of a modern medical drama.

    Where this runs aground against the supposedly historical setting is where the author tries to inject some consciousness about colonialism and sex trafficking. The Romans brutally occupied Britain and subjugated the native peoples, and while Gaius never really questions the economic underpinnings of the Roman Empire or the basic inferiority of the uncivilized natives, he's a "good Roman" who thinks it's not nice to mistreat them, and when he discovers just how miserable women who've been forced into prostitution to serve the needs of the local garrison are, he feels appropriately bad about it.

    This is a frequent problem with historical novels - modern listeners won't sympathize with a protagonist who has the actual historical attitudes of his time and place. No doubt there were nice Romans who didn't beat or rape their slaves, but Gaius Ruso really doesn't act like a Roman military officer, he acts like a modern medical doctor who is a bit bemused to find himself living in Roman Britain.

    Complaints about historicity aside, Medicus had lots of characters, some of whom will no doubt return in future books, and enough twists to keep things moving. There is a good amount of humor, and if you listen to it as a Roman-themed medical detective drama without any expectations of immersive verisimilitude, you will find it enjoyable.

    Gaius and his "slave" Tilla are obviously going to be dancing the romantic tension dance for the next few books.

    Simon Vance, as always, does an excellent job narrating.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    E. L. Sapp Virginia 08-25-16
    E. L. Sapp Virginia 08-25-16 Member Since 2012

    vtcheme

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    "Too Many Characters and Too Much Going On"

    First, the good. Simon Vance does an amazing job reading this book. His use of different voices and accents makes it easy to follow dialog and get a feel for the characters.

    Now the bad. The book had a lot of potential, and some of it was very good. The story started out great, and I was about ready to hurry back and buy the next one in the series. Once Ruso starts investigating the disappearance of the prostitutes, however, the book lost its flow. Eventually, I started losing track of who was who, making it very difficult to follow the book. (The Romans were easy, but the Britons started flowing together.) I think this book would have been a lot better with less emphasis on the investigation and more on Ruso's work and his relationships with the other characters.

    I wanted to love this book, and I feel I could have if the author had gone a different way with it.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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