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).