Imperium (Cicero Trilogy 1) by Robert Harris

When in Rome…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Young lawyer Cicero is already developing a reputation as a skilful lawyer and compelling orator, when one day a Sicilian by the name of Sthenius comes asking for his aid. The unscrupulous governor of Sicily, Verres, has used his position of power to openly steal from Sthenius and now Verres is using the law to further victimise him. Cicero realises that a victory against Verres would propel him into the public eye – a greatly to-be-desired outcome for a man with ambitions to win the most important office in Rome one day, that of the consulship. But while it might gain him the love of the people, it’s bound to antagonise the aristocrats…

We are told the story by Tiro, Cicero’s slave and secretary, who has invented his own system of shorthand and, as a result, has made himself essential to the great man. Robert Harris is the master of fictionalising real events in historical settings and does his usual excellent job here. Tiro really existed and did write a book about Cicero, long ago lost. Harris’ version of Tiro is a wonderful creation – he allows us to see Cicero from the viewpoint of someone loyal to him but not to the point of obsession, sometimes critical, sometimes mildly mocking. Tiro’s position as a favoured slave means that he has a good understanding of all the various players and the political games they are playing, but has no vested interest or opportunity for personal gain from them. This makes him a more objective observer than any of the other participants. From Tiro’s perspective, what’s good for Cicero is good for those dependant on him. Fortunately for Tiro, Cicero is also a good master who mostly is quite considerate, although from time to time he seems to forget that poor Tiro needs to sleep occasionally.

In his afterword, Harris says about the story that “the majority of the events it describes did actually happen; the remainder at least could have happened; and nothing, I hope (a hostage to fortune, this), demonstrably did not happen”. This is both the strength and the weakness of the novel. Like most famous people from history, Cicero’s life is mostly fairly routine disturbed by the occasional major event. The major events here are brought to life brilliantly – the investigation of Verres’ alleged crimes and his trial at the beginning of the book and the battle for the consulship at the end. The long period in the middle when Cicero is making his name, forming alliances and making political enemies also feels realistic and credible, but unfortunately isn’t nearly so interesting. Also, the picture that develops of Cicero is possibly too real – in the end, he’s just a man jostling for personal power and wealth, and as such I couldn’t get too excited about whether he won or not. I had hoped for a hero and had to settle for a politician… and gosh, I feel I’ve had my fill of them recently!

Robert Harris

The only reason I haven’t given this the full five stars is that ancient Rome and all their shenanigans isn’t a period of history I ever find wildly interesting, and even though Harris makes it more fun than most writers, my usual problem remains of zillions of characters all with remarkably similar names all vying for election to short term positions of power. My lack of knowledge was both a benefit and a drawback. I’ve seen reviews from people who know Roman history and society who have criticised some of the factual stuff, but I didn’t spot any of that and was able to just enjoy it as a story. On the other hand, there are so many people involved, both centrally and peripherally, that I’m sure it would have helped to have at least some pre-knowledge of who they all were and what they were famous for. Harris does a great job of keeping the Roman newbie informed, but I still found myself constantly trying to remember what he’d previously told us about various characters as they re-appeared a few chapters later.

So overall not my favourite Harris, but primarily because it’s not my favourite period of history. Still an excellent read, though, that held my interest enough to make me want to continue on and read the other two books in the trilogy. And fortunately my lack of knowledge of Cicero and Rome means I have no idea what awaits me…

Book 2 of 25

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TBR Thursday 166…

Episode 166…

OK, this is deeply awful, so I’m just going to take a deep breath and get it over with…
the TBR is up TEN to 230. But it isn’t my fault!! Even the postman admits I’m being harassed by unfeeling book pushers!! I’m beginning to know how Homer feels…

Here are a few more that should rise to the surface soon…

Fiction

Courtesy of Allison & Busby. Having loved both of Suzanne Rindell’s earlier books, The Other Typist and Three-Martini Lunch, I can’t wait to get into this one… (Update: I’ve already started it, and so far it’s fab…)

The Blurb says: Louis Thorn and Haruto ‘Harry’ Yamada – the Eagle and the Crane – are the star attractions of a daredevil aerial stunt team that traverses Depression-era California. The young men have a complicated relationship, thanks to the Thorn family’s belief that the Yamadas – Japanese immigrants – stole land from the Thorn family. This tension is inflamed when Louis and Harry both drawn to the same woman, Ava. After the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor there are changes and harsh realities to face. And when one of the stunt planes crashes with two charred bodies inside, the ensuing investigation struggles when the details don’t add up and no one seems willing to tell the truth.

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Historical Crime, I think

Courtesy of Amazon Vine. I was intrigued by all the positive reviews for Anna Mazzola’s first book, The Unseeing, but as usual never managed to get around to reading it. So when I was offered this one, I thought I better snap it up…

The Blurb says: Audrey Hart is on the Isle of Skye to collect the word-of-mouth folk tales of the people and communities around her. It is 1857, the Highland Clearances have left devastation and poverty, and the crofters are suspicious and hostile, claiming they no longer know their stories. Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach and the crofters tell her that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl has disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the spirits of the unforgiven dead. Initially, Audrey is sure the girls are being abducted, but then she is reminded of her own mother, a Skye woman who disappeared in mysterious circumstances. It seems there is a link to be explored, and Audrey may uncover just what her family have been hiding from her all these years.

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Vintage Crime

Courtesy of Collins Crime Club. This popped unexpectedly through my letterbox a week or two ago, which suggests sometimes publishers are psychic! I hadn’t spotted that it was being re-published, but it’s a book I’ve seen mentioned again and again as being a major influence on other early crime writers, so I really wanted to read it. Love the cover too!

The Blurb says: Breaking down her door in response to the sounds of a violent attack and a gunshot, Mademoiselle Stangerson’s rescuers are appalled to find her dying on the floor, clubbed down by a large mutton bone. But in a room with a barred window and locked door, how could her assailant have entered and escaped undetected? While bewildered police officials from the Sûreté begin an exhaustive investigation, so too does a young newspaperman, Joseph Rouletabille, who will encounter more impossibilities before this case can be closed.

The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux, best remembered today as the author of The Phantom of the Opera, has been deservedly praised for more than a century as a defining book in the ‘impossible crime’ genre, as readable now as when it first appeared in French in 1907.

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Historical Fiction

One for my Five Times Five challenge. from the pen of the wonderful Robert Harris. I’ve seen so much praise for his Cicero trilogy, of which this is the first book, that my expectations are stratospheric. Oh dear… (Update: I’ve already started it and so far it’s fab…)

The Blurb says: When Tiro, the confidential secretary of a Roman senator, opens the door to a terrified stranger on a cold November morning, he sets in motion a chain of events which will eventually propel his master into one of the most famous courtroom dramas in history.

The stranger is a Sicilian, a victim of the island’s corrupt Roman governor, Verres. The senator is Cicero, a brilliant young lawyer and spellbinding orator, determined to attain imperium – supreme power in the state.

This is the starting-point of Robert Harris’s most accomplished novel to date. Compellingly written in Tiro’s voice, it takes us inside the violent, treacherous world of Roman politics, to describe how one man – clever, compassionate, devious, vulnerable – fought to reach the top.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or NetGalley.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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