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Saturday, August 18, 2007

If you don’t mind wending your way past erotic remarks and details on practically every page, this mystery can make a suspenseful read. Gordianus is a respectable man in Rome, enjoying semi-retirement when an old philosophy teacher comes to his door afraid and seeking his help. The events that follow lead Gordianus to make some interesting (and usually randy) new acquaintances and uncover several disturbing secrets. The book is very well-written and serves as an illuminating introduction to what the streets of Rome might have been like in the 1st century B.C.

The title ought to serve as a warning about the cloying sexual overtones that pervade the story. Everyone is thinking about sex and talking about sex. If the topics of sex and human anatomy haven’t popped up in a little while, you can be sure to see them re-introduced directly. For some readers, this can be a boon, but I found it irritatingly predictable after the first few references.

The ancient Roman setting enhances the mystery. Not only are the events themselves unexpected, but the unfamiliar Roman culture adds its own surprises.

No cultural practice is as shocking as that of slavery. The depiction here is extremely disturbing, as it must be when any group of people are systematically denied their humanity and treated as chattel – sometimes worse than livestock. There is an instance of a slave bought merely to try out poisons and times when slaves are tortured cruelly at the aloof whim of an owner. Slaves are used in sexual servitude and summarily sold if they become “damaged.” Gordianus at one point mildly expresses his opinion that slaves really should be treated decently, but doesn’t raise a fuss or even an eyebrow when he witnesses inhumane treatment. The slaves’ suffering is painful to contemplate, but the comfortable distance Gordianus and the rest of free Rome place between themselves and the reality of slavery is discomfiting. As Americans, are we guilty of the same complacency with respect to the many injustices perpetrated within our sphere of influence?

Title:The Venus Throw
Author:Steven Saylor
Date published:1995
Series:Roma Sub Rosa
Number of pages:308
Notes:4th in the series


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