Gaius Petrius Ruso has just arrived for duty in the Britain, a far backwater of the Roman Empire. He’s been assigned to the Valeria Victrix Legion as Medicus, serving the legion and the natives living in the town surrounding the barracks. When the only other doctor on staff is poisoned by a plate of oysters at the local bar/bordello, Ruso works on alone. Tramping the town in an exhausted stupor, he encounters an odious merchant beating an unconscious slave girl—who clearly has a badly broken arm.
Ruso wants to forget he ever saw the girl. He doesn’t have the money to buy her. He has no use for her. But it’s clear that if she stays as she is, she’ll die. So Ruso does buy her, with the plan to heal her and put her to work. But pretty and clever Tilla has other plans. As a point of honor, she wants to die, and there’s very little Ruso can do about it as she has no plans to tell him.
Being a doctor for the Legion and its hangers-on is difficult enough. But patching up victims of pay-day bar brawls and dealing with annoying bureaucratic superiors while angling for promotion is a gallop in the meadow compared to the job in front of him. Two bodies of working girls have turned up under mysterious circumstances, and the same decency that prompted him to rescue Tilla sends him, however reluctantly, into the path of a dangerous conspiracy in order to learn the identity of their murderer.
is the first book by Ruth Downie, and it promises to be the start of an enjoyable series. It’s got a touch of noir, a touch of Gladiator, and even a touch of M.A.S.H. Downie’s skill at blending humor, warmth, history, and mystery make this a good tale for a long winter’s night. Sequels include Terra Incognita
, Persona non Grata
and the forthcoming Caveat Emptor