Reviews for The Venus Throw, by Steven Saylor

smcleish's review

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4.0

Originally published on my blog here in November 2000.

The Venus Throw is probably the best of Saylor's series of novels featuring Roman private detective Gordianus the Finder. Once again, its subject is one of the famous cases for which Cicero was an advocate at the trial. Rome in the first century BC was a fascinating place, full of interesting people and tumultuous events leading to the formation of the Empire. It is a good illustration of the Chinese curse about interesting times; it was a supremely dangerous place to be, as unscrupulous men and women played political games for really high stakes.

The particular trial in The Venus Throw involves some of the most colourful characters of the time, Clodia and her brother Clodius, immortalised as Lesbia and Lesbius in the poems of Catullus. Coming from a distinguished patrician family, the Claudii, they had changed the spelling of their name so that Clodius could sound more plebian, mark working class, and attract the popular vote in elections. The pair were famous for their licentiousness as well as for their beauty, and were rumoured to be incestuous lovers. The devotion and disgust Clodia in particular could inspire is one of the major inspirations in the greatest of Catullus' poems.

Gordianus is involved because part of the trial is connected with the murder of the Egyptian philosopher Dio. occurred on a night when Gordianus was leaving Rome to visit his son Meto, on the staff of Julius Caesar in Illyria; Gordianus feels personally involved not just because Dio was an old friend whom he had met in Alexandria in his youth, but because the philosopher had come to visit him that evening in fear for his life.

Investigating what happened to Dio at Clodia's instigation leads Gordianus in all kinds of directions, including wondering what Clodia's interest is. Dio was in Rome as part of a delegation from Egypt trying to influence Rome's interference in that country's affairs, but the members of this party have gradually been killed off, presumably at the instigation of exiled Egyptian king Ptolemy, now living in Rome. But the difficulties are to prove this, and to work out which of the various Roman political factions are involved.

The background, always one of Saylor's strengths, is particularly well drawn in The Venus Throw; the characterisation of Catullus is one reason for this. The sense that the reader has of being involved in events is one of the strongest of any historical novel I have ever read.The characters, the new ones in this novel (especially Clodia and the brilliant, disillusioned Catullus) as well as the established series ones, are vivid and believeable. The puzzle is difficult, well presented and sensibly thought out. This is historical detective fiction at its best.

traveller1's review

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4.0

One of the better of the Gordianus series. Here our noble Finder is caught in a complex web of misunderstandings and half-truths, which he consistently ploughs through, until he finally uncovers the truth—in his own house hold!

In this story the great figures of the late Republic play only a peripheral role, we hear a few names, but they are mostly off stage. It is the second level "great Romans" we see this time, plotting and scheming for power and status.

The story concerns 100 Alexandrian scholars and prominent folk who come to Rome in order to lobby the senate to confirm Queen Berenice as Queen of Egypt, rather than King Ptolemy, who is currently in Rome pushing his own case. As soon as they arrive in Italy the visitors are murdered and intimidated into returning to their home. Only one reaches Rome, by "coincidence" one of these is Dio the philosopher, Gordianus' former tutor in Alexandria. The two meet, talk, but the Finder cannot help his teacher. The next evening Dio dies. Prompted by the death Gordianus searches for the killer, and in doing so uncovering unpleasant aspects of his teacher's life.

A good story, no idea of who the "bad guy" was until he very end.

csdaley's review

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3.0

This book took forever to get going. If it wasn't for the setting I am not sure I would have finished it. The mystery didn't really capture me.

silverstarswept's review

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5.0

There’s a lot to love about this, but it’s late on a (virtual) school night, so I’ll just comment that I very much appreciated the way the novel handled the themes of violence, particularly sexual violence, against women. It’s something that connects both Clodia, a wealthy Roman patrician woman, and Bethesda, an Egyptian former slave, as well as the young slave girl Zotica for whom the abuse is too much, causing her severe mental distress. I’ll spoiler mark this just to be safe, but the idea of Bethesda never in 30 years disclosing what happened to her to Gordianus, but explaining to her daughter as soon as she was old enough to understand (and Clodia’s mirroring story of confiding in no one but an old slave woman) felt as relevant to our society today as to that of Gordianus and his family. Also, very very major spoiler but I just really love and respect 13-year-old Diana for almost instantly taking the decision to kill the man who abused her mother, that was an extremely badass thing to do.

julieputty's review

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3.0

Not my favorite of this series, though I thought the ending was extremely strong.
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