Hutchinson £18.99

Lustrum, By Robert Harris

Politics was a dangerous game in the ancient Rome which Robert Harris so vividly brings to life

Thank goodness Robert Harris is only 52. He plans to write novels for at least another 20 years, and if he keeps up his current output of three every two years, we've got another 30 volumes of unbridled pleasure to come. Having discovered Harris only recently, I admit to the zeal of the newly-converted. His books are the parsnip crisps of the literary diet – seemingly ordinary but, once tasted, completely addictive, yet respectable and not at all bad for you.

Lustrum is the second volume of Harris's classical trilogy, picking up where Imperium left off, after the election of Cicero as consul of Rome in 63 BC. Once again, our narrator is Tiro, the real-life amanuensis of Cicero whose biography of the great orator, now sadly lost, is the basis for much of what we know about him.

One of Harris's great strengths is the thoroughness of his research and his absolute mastery of complex historical periods. He spent three years researching volcanoes and Roman history before writing Pompeii. As with that book, some readers of Lustrum will know strands of the story already and Harris weaves in well-known events, such as the plot to assassinate Cicero, to create an utterly convincing quasi-historical narrative. Rusty classicists will thrill to have their memories refreshed while I can't think of a better introduction for those unfamiliar with the period. If I were spearheading a campaign to bring classics back into schools, a national air-drop of Harris's Roman novels would be a start.

A former political journalist and champion of New Labour, Harris claims to prefer writing about politics in the ancient world because it is more dramatic than now. Readers of his last novel, The Ghost, will know that he is just as capable of telling a cracking modern yarn. But it's true that the easy violence of first-century Rome heightens the psychological political excitement. The reader of Lustrum knows that Harris can slit any character's throat at any time. In Whitehall, what weapons are there to play with? Miliband's banana?

As ever, the political chicanery is astutely observed. At one point, Cicero finds himself in an impossible situation orchestrated to undermine him by his ambitious rival Caesar. At first, Cicero tries to bargain with Caesar, then he tries diplomacy, but even his formidable powers of rhetoric fail to win round the mob. And so, despicably but effectively, Cicero uses the trick only available to leaders: he creates a bogus fear of invasion, ordering the flag on the Janiculum to be lowered, signalling that Rome is under attack. Instantly, the mob disperses, the potentially ruinous election is sabotaged. Even the great Cicero has occasionally to resort to dirty tricks. Now what modern parallel could Harris have had in mind?

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'