My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Looking forward to the next in the series!
Medicus and the Disappearing Dancing Girls is the first of a series of novels that follows the misfortunes of a Roman Army Medical Officer, Gaius Petreius Ruso, after his posting from the warm climes of North Africa to the dreary grey drizzle of Deva (pron. Dewa); that’s modern day Chester.
Ruso is down on his luck and doesn’t own much more than a few mounting debts. As well as trying to support his own life in the British garrison town, he is obliged to send funds home to his brother in southern Gaul lest his family find themselves destitute and homeless.
His medical colleague at the garrison hospital, who shares his squalid house with Ruso, takes life as it comes and has a wicked sense of humour, and is no help at all. Consequently, Ruso has very little support from anyone as he tries to traverse his difficult life. Almost by accident he finds himself burdened with further unmanageable debts, becomes the reluctant owner of an injured slave, Tilla, and is in continual conflict with the hospital administrator and many of the local Britons.
There are many reflections of twenty-first century society in this book, ranging from the financial and administrative pressures on the health service to the very serious issue of the white slave trade. I am sure that these parallels are deliberately drawn by the author to provoke the reader into thoughts beyond the main storyline.
Ruso becomes an unwilling detective, trying to track down the truth behind the disappearance of several dancing girls from the local brothel and bar. The story moves at a leisurely pace and, in the main, insinuates the brutality of the age rather than going into explicit detail.
I have always been a big fan of historical novels as, with conversations and images, they bring history to life around those dry, boring dates and names that I had to learn in the school classroom. Medicus does this for me and, at the same time, introduces some interesting characters whom I very much look forward to meeting again as the series unfolds. I strongly suspect that Ruso’s slave, Tilla, will become his driving force.
This is an excellent detective story, and the links between Roman Britain and Modern Britain are particularly pleasing. I would recommend Medicus to anyone who enjoys a good historical fiction.