MEDICUS

Dark doings in Roman-occupied “Britannia” are investigated in this nifty historical mystery, the award-winning English author’s first novel.

The title character, Gaius Petreius Ruso, is an army physician attached to a legion based in Deva (later Chester). He’s recently divorced, overworked, at constant odds with military authorities and further burdened by demands made by his civilian brother on behalf of their financially strapped family. But these problems are trivial compared with the nightmare that builds from the discovery of a murdered slave girl’s body, then the rescue of a girl named Tilla with a broken arm evidently caused by a savage beating, then another female slave’s dead body. Ruso “buys” the uncommunicative Tilla and installs her as his house servant and cook, eventually gleaning from her information that suggests somebody is kidnapping freeborn girls and selling them as slaves. The unusual suspects include bar owner (and probable procurer) Merula, sinister entrepreneur Claudius Innocens (identified, in the amusingly annotated list of “Characters” that precedes the narrative, as “a sleazebag”) and Ruso’s Uriah Heep–like nemesis, nitpicking hospital administrator Priscus. The mystery is a good one, enriched with enigmatic images and episodes (an “invisible dog” hounding the compound, a suspicious case of food poisoning), and a secondary enigma buried in the identity and nature of the goddess whom Tilla stoically worships. But the real achievement here is the lavishly, often hilariously detailed portrayal of the world that absorbs Ruso’s exhausted wits and energies (Downie even manages a few good jokes about English cuisine). And in cheerful mutual insults exchanged between Ruso and his colleague and rival Valens, we hear again the effervescent voices of M*A*S*H’s Hawkeye and Trapper John. And Ruso is a wonderful character, fueled by a dyspeptic machismo and sullen charm reminiscent of Harrison Ford in his heyday.

A charming novel.

Pub Date: March 1, 2007

ISBN: 1-59691-231-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2006

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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