Monday, 26 November 2007

Ross Leckie - "Scipio"

A sequel, of sorts, to ‘Hannibal’ and a precursor to ‘Carthage’. As you will have gathered I’m going through a Latin / Ancient Rome phase at the moment and this book fits in nicely with that mood. A tale of the aristocrat, General, politician and aesthete Scipio Africanus. It gives the military perspective to the Rome of Robert Harris’s ‘ Imperium’ and ‘Pompeii’.

For the first time since I started using it a couple of years ago Fantastic Fiction has let me down by not having Ross Leckie on its pages. He definitely deserves to be there.

ROSS LECKIE - Since reading Classics at Oxford, Ross Leckie has worked variously as a farm labourer, roughneck, schoolmaster, and insurance broker. He is now a full time writer living in Edinburgh. Scipio is his fifth published book and follows on from his highly-acclaimed Hannibal which has been translated into half a dozen languages. He is currently working on the final instalment of the trilogy, Carthage.

Robert Harris - "Archangel"

I haven’t blogged within the six promised days because I’ve just read two more Robert Harris books – ‘Fatherland’ and ‘Archangel’ – before moving on to a new author. Both thrillers, they cover in the first case a Europe that might have been with Hitler in charge in 1964 and in the second case a resurrected son of Stalin.

It is worthy of note that as well as being a good thriller ‘Archangel’ shows a worrying side to the continuing Russian hero worship of Stalin. Many of us fail to realise just how brutal and genocidal he was – certainly as bad as Hitler and indeed, if Harris is anything to go by, a bigger villain than the German, especially since his terrible deeds appear largely to have been forgotten.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Robert Harris - "Pompeii"

Robert Harris - "Pompeii"; Random House, 2003 ISBN: 0099282615

I suppose it is appropriate that my first post on this blog should be a work which goes back in time. This historical thriller takes place in August of the year 79AD just as Vesuvius is about to give the Bay of Naples a wake up call.

"All along the Mediterranean coast, the Roman empire's richest citizens are relaxing in their luxurious villas, enjoying the last days of summer. The world's largest navy lies peacefully at anchor in Misenum. The tourists are spending their money in the seaside resorts of Baiae, Herculaneum, and Pompeii.

But the carefree lifestyle and gorgeous weather belie an impending cataclysm, and only one man is worried. The young engineer Marcus Attilius Primus has just taken charge of the Aqua Augusta, the enormous aqueduct that brings fresh water to a quarter of a million people in nine towns around the Bay of Naples. His predecessor has disappeared. Springs are failing for the first time in generations. And now there is a crisis on the Augusta's sixty-mile main line -- somewhere to the north of Pompeii, on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius.

Attilius -- decent, practical, and incorruptible -- promises Pliny, the famous scholar who commands the navy, that he can repair the aqueduct before the reservoir runs dry. His plan is to travel to Pompeii and put together an expedition, then head out to the place where he believes the fault lies. But Pompeii proves to be a corrupt and violent town, and Attilius soon discovers that there are powerful forces at work -- both natural and man-made -- threatening to destroy him." (Random House)

Brilliantly researched (and I use the term brilliantly advisedly) this was the first book by Robert Harris that I had come across. It is elegantly written but in now way talks down to the reader. Even without the historical education that it gives it is worth reading as a thriller alone.

I promptly dashed off the library and am now half way through Harris's "Imperium" (2006), a life of Cicero.

For a summary of the unexpected nature of the Pompeii disaster go to
but not before reading "Pompeii" first.

You can buy the softback version for a mere £3.50

ROBERT HARRIS is also the author of Enigma (1995), Fatherland (1992), Archangel (1998) and The Ghost (2007). He has been a television correspondent with the BBC and a newspaper columnist for the London Sunday Times. His novels have sold more than six million copies and been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Berkshire, England, with his wife and three children.

{It should be noted that Hannibal is by a different Harris -- Thomas Harris and the Hannibal concerned is Hannibal Lecter the character in The Silence of the Lambs.)


Poetry was described by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as the best words in the best order. Whilst I appreciate the thinking behind the sentiment and am also appreciative of much poetry I would hesitate to believe poetry was any better than prose. Any good literature is surely by definition the best words in the best order.

But in these reviews I have made no attempt to stick to good literature (however that may be defined) I’ve also included some pretty awful words that have been poorly ordered. The only qualification a book requires to make it to this Blog is that I must have read it. The view on how ‘good’ it is can only ever be subjective so that is what the reviews are. And even one person’s subjective view will change from day to day. Books I read in my teens may no longer appeal. By contrast my early attempts at Dickens (Ugh!) bear no relation to my recent enjoyment of his works. Even day to day moods affect one’s view. If I’m not in the mood for a light-hearted Ellis Peters story it becomes ‘samey’ and ‘boring’. If I am the mood it is a harmless and fun way of relaxing for an hour or so.

There is no attempt to place these reviews in any order. The first one just happens to be the work I most recently read. Others may be reviewed as and when they come to mind. I reckon that on average since I was about 4 years old I have read two books a week (both fiction and non-fiction) which means I have about 5,400 books to catch up on though if one takes out duplicates I suppose one could round it down to about 5,000. (In fact some like ‘Lord of the Rings’, the early Discworld ones and the Stephen Donaldson ‘Thomas Covenant’ stories have been read at least three times!) If I live to be as old as my parents and grandmother and kept my sight and wits I’ll add another 3,000.

It would be fun to pick my Top Ten or Top Hundred but at this stage I cannot imagine so doing. Nevertheless, odd lists and quotes and jottings will be included in these Blogs in the hope of making this something more than just a set of reviews.

Enough now of introducing the task. It’s time to get on with it....