The Wedge of the San Rafael

The Wedge of the San Rafael
Someone has to live here, in the middle of desert beauty. Might as well be the Kellys.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

When in Rome

I'm test-driving my "new" right eye. Yesterday, I had cataract surgery on it. When I went in for the post-op checkup, it tested at 20-20, so I am a happy girl. (So was my tech, Sarah, who happens to be my daughter. She started to cry, she was so pleased.) Doc Byers will do Eye 2 in two weeks. Last night, my other daughter Liz, a former optician, took the right lens out of my glasses, which helps. Sarah will cut a blank for those glasses, so I won't poke myself in the eye.

But the main issue today is a total fan letter to Ruth Downie, whose latest book is out, and which I've already devoured. I don't read great gobs of fiction (too busy writing it), so when I like a book, I become a loyal reader.

Ruth Downie lives in Devonshire, almost my favorite place on earth. I paid a too-short visit to Plymouth a few years ago, and would gladly return. She writes the most wonderful mystery series set in Roman Britain at the time of the emperor Hadrian, roughly 120 A.D. The hero, a reluctant hero, is Gaius Petrius Ruso, a medicus (doctor). He's physician in the Roman army, and stationed in Britain, a real backwater for someone with ambition (which probably wouldn't be Ruso). His unpleasant wife has divorced him, and his family from Gall put the D in dysfunction, always asking him for money and other favors.

He acquires a slave girl named Tilla, a Brit of the Coronotatae tribe. A convenient arrangement becomes far more permanent, after a book or two. These are thoroughly delightful characters. Tilla is tough, opinionated, certain she's right, tender now and then, and devoted to her doctor. Ruso is much the same, but a bit easier on humankind than Tilla is. Together, they form an odd couple in Roman Britain - he has status as a Roman officer, and his services are essential, but he is cynical. Tilla is a second-class citizen in her own country, and powerless, or is she? The books contain a lot of humor, mixed with mayhem. I think of the Rusos as the Nick and Nora Charles of early British crime fiction.

I found the first book, Medicus, in a Deseret Industries thrift store four-plus years ago. I think it cost me 75 cents. I rarely pass up a book with a Roman setting, because Roman history has fascinated me since junior high. It was charming. After I finished my 75 cent copy, I knew I'd have paid more to read it (and certainly have since).

You do need to read this series in order, because their lives change significantly with each installment. The order is Medicus; Terra Incognita; Persona Non Grata; Caveat Emptor; and now Semper Fidelis. They may or may not be to your taste, but give Medicus a try, if you're so inclined.

I have certain crime fiction authors that I read: Michael Connelly, Robert Crais (consistently fine); Peter Robinson (ditto); James Lee Burke sometimes; Lee Child (hit and miss); Steven Havill (fun). Now I'll add Ruth Downie's book to my admittedly short list of guaranteed purchases.  I do hope she's working on another book about Ruso and Tilla. I mean, right now.


  1. Glad to know your surgery was successful. I am going with your recommendations and ordering Medicus and Terra Incognita.

  2. Thank you for telling us about Ruth - I'm always on the look out for new authors. She sounds just like the kind I like to read. And congrats on your cataract surgery - I had mine done about 3 years ago. It went well but was a shock to suddenly be far sighted after 52 years of being near sighted. I do have to wear reading glasses and for my sewing. I so look forward to your forthcoming books
    A fan
    Mary Nudge

    1. Thanks, Mary. The cataract surgery was amazing. I'll probably be wearing a slight correction in my dark glasses for driving. Other than that, I think I'm good to go.
      I do hope you like Ruth Downie's books.