In Imperium, we saw Cicero rise from humble origins to achieve the highest office of Rome. Now, in the second book of the trilogy, Robert Harris gives us the dramatic narrative of the Catilinarian Conspiracy, the series of events that made Cicero famous for the ages.
As Cicero prepares to take the consulship, the republic is as turbulent as ever. A slave boy is discovered with his throat slit and his organs removed, an apparent victim of human sacrifice. A venerable elderly senator is charged with murder, throwing the patricians and the plebs once again into violent conflict. A wealthy young upstart appears in women’s clothing and profanes one of Rome’s most sacred ceremonies. And behind the scenes, Catiline and the young Julius Caesar plot Cicero’s destruction – and the destruction of the Republic.
As Cicero juggles loyalties in an attempt to keep the country standing, Tiro, his faithful secretary and slave, looks on. As in Imperium, Tiro serves not so much as a character in his own right, but as a pair of eyes through which to see Cicero shine. Harris attempts to enliven Tiro’s character by introducing an element of romance, but really it is Cicero in the spotlight – the Sherlock Holmes, the inscrutable genius with the world on his shoulders. Harris deftly weaves the actual words of Cicero’s famed speeches into the novel, showing an awe-inspiring grasp on the complex politics of the time. If we always see Cicero at an emotional remove, this distanced perspective does nothing to detract from this muscular political thriller.