“To all members of XX Legion Valeria Victrix. While the chief medic is on leave, this hospital has three officers. The administrative officer has gone shopping in Viroconium and taken his keys with him. One doctor has severe food poisoning. The other is doing his best, despite having no idea what's going on because he has no time to attend morning briefings. Until reinforcements arrive, nonurgent cases and injuries resulting from drunkenness, stupidity, or arguments with drill instructors will not be treated.”
In Medicus: A Novel of the Roman Empire by Ruth Downie (Bloomsbury USA 2007), Gaius Petreius Ruso is a newly posted army medic to a grimy British outpost of the empire, recently divorced, beset by the debts his late father left behind, and having accidentally acquired a female slave he can't afford.
Here here he is, in the port city of Deva, today's Chester, trying to hide his new poverty, dealing with a parsimonious administrator, Priscus, the untidy fellow medic Valens who is his house mate, a recalcitrant slave, Tilla, a number of puppies, and assorted patients, soldiers, and townspeople, and on top of all gets embroiled in doings at Merula's bar (and brothel), one of the attractions in town. Two murders soon catch his attention, and his own life is in peril more than once. And everybody in town expects him to solve the murders.
The story is seen through the eyes both of Ruso and Tilla, and full of suspense. It is well presented, with a rollicking climax, and a sure footed prose.
NPR interview with Ruth Downie
A second Ruso novel, Terra Incognita: A Novel of the Roman Empire, is slated for March 2008 publication in both the U.S. and the UK.