Imperium: Robert Harris

★★★★½

Cicero: Book I

This book has roosted patiently on my shelf for some time and I’m not quite sure why it’s taken me so long to get round to it. Perhaps I just couldn’t stomach yet another version of the fall of the Roman republic? Or perhaps, shamefully, I felt that a novel about the life of Marcus Tullius Cicero would be rather dry? I was wrong, of course. I was utterly, completely wrong and am glad to be so. Harris’s novel has all the drama of a modern political thriller, underpinned by conscientious faithfulness to place, time and character. It’s superbly paced. Seen through the eyes of Cicero’s devoted secretary Tiro, this is the story of a brilliant man, a tireless, probing and ruthless lawyer, whose desire for rank brings him into the orbit of the most powerful – and infamous – men in Rome. It is a mixed blessing. With the help of such men, Cicero can rise to the heights he has always dreamed about. But at what cost?

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Pompeii: Robert Harris

★★★½

Attilius is an aquarius: a specialist engineer who constructs and maintains the great aqueducts that feed the Roman Empire. His first significant posting is to Misenum, the great naval base at the tip of the Bay of Naples and the terminus of the immense aqueduct, the Aqua Augusta, which waters the resorts and towns around the bay. Attilius’ predecessor, the aquarius Exomnius, has vanished in mysterious circumstances; but nobody admits to knowing where he’s gone. And anyway Attilius has more pressing matters on his hands: his gang of recalcitrant workmen don’t take him seriously; his foreman Corax does all he can to undermine his authority; and the waters of the Aqua Augusta have begun to fail.

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