Ron Singerton’s “Villa of Deceit” cleverly portrays the transition from the Roman Republic, which had a complex constitution with checks and balances, to the rise of the imperial dynasty of the Roman Empire, which would rule the next four hundred years with an iron hand, by using the microcosm of a Roman family to reflect the changes and undercurrents that were beginning to change the course of Western Civilization.
The book opens with young Gaius, the hero of the story, intending to celebrate the last night of the Ludi Flores festival with his good friend Appian Dio. But that afternoon, he makes the mistake of attempting to intervene on behalf of a young slave Gaius’s tyrannical father, Toronius, is unfairly punishing. Gaius fails, earning the wrath of his father, and is also injured during the altercation. For Gaius, the incident is further proof of what he has known for some time: Toronius is a brutal man with few scruples, and in Gaius’ eyes, unfit to head the family or the family’s trade.
However, the laws of first century B.C. Rome are of no help in deterring a man such as Toronius. And Gaius’s young mother, who escapes the suffocating rule of her husband by looking after her own interests, is no ally to her son. Not long after the incident with the young slave, Gaius falls in love with a female slave brought into the household. To save her from his father, Gaius convinces her to flee with him and is disinherited as a result. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes, leaving Gaius alone with young son.
In Gaius, the author gives us a highly sympathetic character who, though young, is intelligent and moral enough to draw conclusions about such unfair treatment of slaves, and brave enough to make difficult decisions in order to strive to live his life by a better standard. Forced into choices that carry consequences by the limited options available in those times, Gaius leaves the infant with a relative and joins the merciless military to try his luck at becoming a Roman Legionnaire.
Singerton has done his research, and he paints a very accurate portrait of life for young men during first century B.C. Rome. Fathers demand that they come of age early in life, measuring their manhood and stamina by the number of women they bed in one night, and the amount of fear that they are able to strike into the hearts and minds of others.
In 70 B.C. Rome, slaves and prostitutes are to be used and then discarded when no longer needed. A slave’s life has little value and is easily replaced by more prisoners who would be taken in the next cold-blooded military conquest. Imported to Roman households from far away lands, slave were young children, and the women who were sorted as to their best use in the eyes of their captors. Those captured who were of little use were instantly put to death. The Roman Empire would continue to conquer and expand its undisputed rule across three continents for the next four hundred years.
“Villa of Deceit: a Novel of Ancient Rome” by Ron Singerton will keep readers turning the pages as the author vividly conveys the brutality and wanton disregard of life on and off the battlefield in this cleverly plotted historical novel that speaks to a time that would affect Western Civilization for the next millennium.