Book Review: Medicus and the Disappearing Dancing Girls by R.S. Downie

It is 117 AD and Gaius Petreius Ruso has recently arrived in the Roman province of Britannia, to take up a post as Medicus to the Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix (valiant and victorious) who are stationed at Deva (Chester).  His friend, Valens, the other Medicus to the Twentieth had written to Ruso whilst he had still been based in Africa, telling him how wonderful the province was, and encouraged him to move.  Ruso did, but quickly regretted it.

He soon finds himself working long hours in an understaffed army hospital run very strictly by an interfering hospital administrator, and living in a house that should have been pulled down.  To make matters worse, everyone thinks he is investigating a string of murders that have occurred recently – which he isn’t -angering the man whose job it really is.  Finally, he acquires an injured slave, a native with a stubborn streak, who has a habit of doing what she wants more often than what she is told.

What we quickly come to learn about Ruso is that he is simply too nice for his own good, and he is always trying to do what’s best, whether for his family or the patient’s he treats, though the latter is hampered a great deal by the lack of sound medical knowledge.

I really enjoyed reading this book.  It’s tone was lighter than I expected given the subject matter, but Ruso’s sense of humour worked really well with everything that was going on around him.  The author manages to deftly weave together a number of threads making this book too good to put down.  The descriptions provided of the beginnings of Roman Chester are vivid, and the dialogue, like the rest of the story, flows with ease.

Medicus and the Disappearing Dancing Girls is the first novel in the Medicus Investigation series.  I am looking forward to reading the second.