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Book Review: Lustrum by Robert Harris

Posted by Audiegrl

Best-Selling Author Robert Harris

Best-Selling Author Robert Harris

Times Online–In recent years, ancient Rome has provided the setting for dozens of historical crime novels. In their pages, whole posses of classical private eyes prowl the city’s mean streets. Robert Harris’s Lustrum, the second, enthralling volume in what he promises will be a trilogy set in the last decades of the Roman republic, opens with a scene that suggests this might be just another one to add to the genre. A young slave has been found murdered and eviscerated, his body dumped in the Tiber. Consul-elect Marcus Tullius Cicero is called to the scene. When he learns that the boy has been killed as a human sacrifice, it seems that Cicero might be taking on the role of a toga-clad Philip Marlowe in tracking down the murderers.

Yet it soon becomes clear that Harris has no interest in that kind of story at all. His focus instead is firmly upon the dangers and temptations of politics. Over the course of the next 400 pages, the gritty and tortuous realities of power take precedence over the contrived puzzles of crime fiction.

lustrombookcoverIt is not difficult to see why Harris was so drawn to the years between 63BC and 58BC when the novel is set (Lustrum means “five-year period” in Latin). The stakes then, in a period when the Roman republic was perpetually at risk of disintegration, were so much higher than they are now. Plunge to catastrophic defeat in modern British politics and the worst that awaits you is an early elevation to the House of Lords; failure in Roman politics could result in exile, assassination or an inescapable invitation to open your veins in a warm bath.

It is against this background of the ever­present potential for violence and death that Harris’s gripping narrative unfolds. Within a few chapters, readers learn who killed the slave and why. He was the victim of Catilina, one of Cicero’s beaten rivals for the consulship, who offered the boy up as the sacrificial seal on an oath taken by a group of decadent aristocrats to murder Cicero and take control of the state.

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Other Best-sellers by Robert Harris

pompeiicoverPompeii: A Novel by Robert Harris

Harris’s historical novel begins in August, 79 B.C., two days before the eruption of Vesuvius. The hero is Marcus Attilius Primus, an aqueduct engineer who is investigating a mysterious blockage, apparently related to recent tremors, in the aqueduct that runs from Misenum to Pompeii. In addition

Ancient wall painting in Pompeii (Photo by Audiegrl)

Ancient wall painting in Pompeii (Photo by Audiegrl)

to landing this prestigious job—it’s the Empire’s longest aqueduct—he has met a young woman who has the “same darkness of hair” and the “same voluptuousness of figure” as his dear departed first wife. The only problem is her father, a corrupt and powerful millionaire who is stealing from the water supply. Although the plot seems to owe more to “Chinatown” than to Pliny, Harris garnishes the action with seductive period detail, and the novel comes alive in the main event, a cataclysmic explosion with a thermal energy equal to a hundred thousand Hiroshimas.~~The New Yorker

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imperiumbookcoverImperium : A Novel of Ancient Rome by Robert Harris

Bestselling British author Harris (Pompeii; Enigma) returns to ancient Rome for this entertaining and enlightening novel of Marcus Cicero’s rise to power. Narrated by a household slave named Tiro, who actually served as Cicero’s “confidential secretary” for 36 years, this fictional biography
Rome Coliseum            (Photo by Audiegrl)

Roman Coliseum (Photo by Audiegrl)

follows the statesman and orator from his early career as an outsider a “new man” from the provinces to his election to the consulship, Rome’s highest office, in 64 B.C. Loathed by the aristocrats, Cicero lived by his wits in a tireless quest for imperium the ultimate power of life and death and achieves “his life’s ambition” after uncovering a plot by Marcus Crassus and Julius Caesar to rig the elections and seize control of the government. Harris’s description of Rome’s labyrinthine, and sometimes deadly, political scene is fascinating and instructive. The action is relentless, and readers will be disappointed when Harris leaves Cicero at the moment of his greatest triumph. Given Cicero’s stormy consulship, his continuing opposition to Julius Caesar and his own assassination, readers can only hope a sequel is in the works. Until then, this serves as a superb first act.
~~Publishers Weekly

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Publisher’s Are Bringing Out the Big Guns


In a tough year, publishers are betting on Dan Brown, Philip Roth and Vladimir Nabokov

Posted by TheLCster

Wall Street Journal–This season, many publishers are counting on star-studded fall catalogues to turn around a dismal year. Battered by the drop in consumer spending, most major publishing houses have cut staff and trimmed costs in recent months.

Publishers often save their splashiest works for the autumn months, but this year’s crop of fall books is unusually heavy with big names. The releases run across the literary spectrum, from Dan Brown’s sequel to “The Da Vinci Code,” which kicks of with a massive first printing of 6.5 million copies, to a final, posthumous work by Vladimir Nabokov.

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