Saturday, March 28, 2009

Roman Mysteries

I am not a particular fan of historical novels, so I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed reading Medicus by Ruth Downie.

Medicus is about a Roman doctor who has just moved to the Roman army base in present-day Chester, England. He does solve a mystery, but the intrigue is secondary to the wonderfully complex characters and setting. (In an interview, Downie comments that, “Having a mystery to solve helps to ground the plot and curtail its tendencies to meander about.” That makes sense.)

Readers get an intimate picture of medical practices (cataract surgery), advertising (painted on the walls), tensions between occupiers and occupied, and much more. Even the minor characters have complex, well-developed personalities so you get to know some of the Roman administrators as well as the local prostitutes.

The book is funny as well – Ruso lives in a run-down shack full of mice and puppies, forgets to shave and is completely confused when he purchases his first pair of trousers.

It’s a delightful read – and it’s followed by Terra Incognita and – soon to be published – Persona Non Grata (the books have different titles in England).


Stephanie V said...

I wonder why history is always presented in school as dry and dusty dates and places. If only they had assigned some of the great historical novels as reading...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for an interesting review. I look forward to reading this novel. As a history teacher as well as an author of historical fiction, I find Stephanie V.'s comment intriguing. She is right, to a large extent. For students who like to read, good historical novels are a vivid means to gain insight into an event or period. An obvious (and effective) example is All Quiet on the Western Front for studying the daily horrors experienced by soldiers in WWI. Those who enjoy HF might want to check out my novel, The Fuhrer Virus. It is a spy/conspiracy/thriller for adolescent/adult readers and can be found at,, and


Paul Schultz