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Peter James’ “Venice Aphrodisiac” fits into Venice Noir quite nicely with a few common themes aside from the setting; a woman who is unable to have children and infidelity. The story begins with a couple lying to their respective spouses so they can get together for a passionate, secret rendezvous. Eventually the two are able to divorce their spouses and get married to one another.
The fact that the man’s passion starts to fizzle out and he begins to look elsewhere is predictable, but James adds in twists that are at once shocking and entertaining. The man, Johnny, takes a rather drastic step to solving his marriage trouble. Instead of taking the easy way out by getting a divorce, he starts to contemplate how to get away with murder.
As he takes his wife back to Venice, where they used to have their lustful meetings, the entire city seems to have changed. When the couple had been in love they enjoyed drinking Bellinis at their favorite cafe. Now that their love has died the drinks they were once so fond of have turned into nasty concoctions and the city they had adored has started to stink.
The way James phrases the description of Venice through Johnny’s eyes now that he is no longer in love brings about a few topics to ponder upon. Has Venice changed because of Johnny’s relationship turning sour? If this is true, then it could be said that when Venice is seen through the eyes of lovers’ it is beautiful and romantic, but in reality it is nothing of the sort. This conclusion would go along with Venice Noir’s purpose of showing readers different sides of Venice aside from picturesque postcards and travel pamphlets that are commonly held to represent it.
Not once in this scene do readers see the wife’s reaction to the Bellinis (aside from them making her drunk) or the putrid smell. Because of this, no exact conclusion can be made. It could even be said to foreshadow the ironic turn of events for Johnny. Even though Joy, the wife, does not get to express her opinion about Venice, she does get the chance to give readers quite a shock at the end of the story.
Even if readers find the entire story boring and cliche they will not be able to predict the ending and it is one they are not likely to forget. Despite not being able to have kids, keep her husband satisfied and prevent him from wandering, Joy gets the last say in matters concerning him.
She is even able to force him to keep a promise that he no longer wishes to keep and most likely had forgotten. The way she does this is absolutely absurd, but it works. James does not fail in originality when it comes to his heroine, which makes this short story a delightfully revengeful and shocking read.
Image Courtesy of Peter James