Villa of Deceit

Written by Ron Singleton
Review by James Hawking

In the first few pages, the Colosseum appears in 70 BC, 150 years before it was opened. As the story continues, senators are worried about running for re-election, a puzzling distortion of Roman procedure. However, these inaccuracies are minor, and my objections are pedantic because what is brilliantly captured here is the relentless brutality of Roman life, not only on the battlefield, but within the home and during military training. The head of the household routinely rapes female slaves, casually murders a male slave, and beats his son Gaius for little or no reason, reminding him that the father is within his rights to kill a son. Gaius’s mother is not much better, but she does provide a memorable erotic scene. Gaius joins the legions, where the training involves more beating and a murder plot. There are occasional appearances by Caesar, Cicero, and, most prominently, Crassus, but the real focus is on Gaius and his love for Aspacia, a slave from Lusitania whom he inherits, frees, and marries.

Obscure Latin terms like pinacotheca (picture gallery), villicus (farm manager), or buccellatum (hardtack) are used, but they are always clear from context or explained explicitly. Spoiler alert: Don’t read the cover of the book. It gives away key plot developments almost to the last page.