A number one bestselling Roman thriller from the award-winning master of the literary and historical thriller genre: Robert Harris. A thrilling depiction of one of the most famous natural disasters in human history: the explosion of Mount Vesuvius.
A sweltering week in late August. Where better to enjoy the last days of summer than on the beautiful Bay of Naples? But even as Rome's richest citizens relax in their villas around Pompeii and Herculaneum, there are ominous warnings that something is going wrong. Wells and springs are failing, a man has disappeared, and now the greatest aqueduct in the world - the mighty Aqua Augusta - has suddenly ceased to flow. Through the eyes of four characters - a young engineer, an adolescent girl, a corrupt millionaire and an elderly scientist - Robert Harris brilliantly recreates a luxurious world on the brink of destruction.
Since I was a kid, I have always been fascinated by anything to do with the Romans: the Roman Empire, the epic battles, the Gladiators fighting to the death, the mad emperors and so on. A historical event that took place in Roman times and that had struck me as a kid while reading history books, is that of Pompeii and how this great Roman town together with Herculaneum and other neighbouring towns were completely destroyed and buried within a few hours under millions of tonnes of hardened ash spewed out by Mount Vesuvius.
So this time round, instead of a thriller, I wanted to read a book about this event. I picked up 'Pompeii' by Robert Harris, a book published in 2005. I wanted to relive the story brought down to us by the great ancient writers and the author has succeeded in helping me do just that. He has skilfully created fictional, but very realistic characters and added them to real historical ones (such as the great scholar Pliny) to weave a very interesting and plausible story taking place in the last days leading up to that huge catastrophe.
The main character in this book is Attilius, an 'aquarius' or aqueduct engineer, sent to the Bay of Neapolis from Rome to investigate and repair the Aqua Augusta - the longest aqueduct in the world that provided water to nine towns around the Bay of Neapolis. Seventeen years after a major earthquake that had destroyed half of Pompeii, and amidst regular tremors, the aqueduct's flow and level of her enormous reservoir was dropping at an alarming rate. Wells have turned into tubes of dust, streams had dried up, and riverbanks have become tracks. If this wasn't bad enough, Exomnius, the aquarius in charge of the Augusta, has vanished into thin air. In a few days the water supply of all these towns will stop completely and then what? What will they do? What or who had caused this problem? Was the aqueduct damaged or was this an act of sabotage? And where did the former aquarius go? What happened to him? Attilius needs to find the answer to all these questions and quickly. But he soon realises that not everyone wants to help him in his mission. Someone will do everything in their power to make him fail. But who? And why?
I read this book in just a few sittings. It is evident that a lot of research was carried out before writing this book. The author did a remarkable job in immersing me into this story and bringing to life the people and towns of 79AD in vivid splendour. I felt as if I was there walking through the crowded streets and lanes, seeing the beautiful colourful summer villas overlooking the bay, the triremes swaying lazily in the sparkling water and at the backdrop, Vesuvius, this huge mountain rising massively above the bay to a pointed summit. Yes, I was there. I've seen it all through the eyes of Attilius. I felt what he felt and all this thanks to the author's superb writing and descriptions.
Attilius has no idea that the shortage of water is just the first indication that something terrible was brewing beneath everyone's feet. When I came to the pages describing the eruption, I felt literally breathless. The author's impressive, vivid descriptions and fast pace kept me hooked and I couldn't stop reading. I felt terrified and ended up gnawing my fingernails just reading those descriptions, let alone imagining being there living it all first hand. OMG! Those poor innocent people!
Yes, this is a fabulous book full of historical facts and breathtaking descriptions, and if you, like me, have always wanted to know more about this catastrophe, I highly recommend that you read it.
Robert Harris is the author of eleven bestselling novels: the Cicero Trilogy - Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator - Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, The Ghost, The Fear Index, An Officer and a Spy, which won four prizes including the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, and Conclave. His forthcoming book, Munich, coming out in September 2017, is set over the four days of the Munich Conference, and is filled with the real-life characters and events of the time. Several of his books have been filmed, including The Ghost, which was directed by Roman Polanski. His work has been translated into thirty-seven languages and he is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He lives in West Berkshire with his wife, Gill Hornby.