Robert Harris tells the story of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius from the perspective of an aqueduct engineer, Attilius. The author uses historical details about Pompeii, aqueducts, and the Roman Empire to take a fairly basic thriller and crank it up a few notches.
A very quick read – I started after we got home from the movie last night, and was in bed before midnight.
No stilted this-is-how-a-Roman-talks language – and he does a great job weaving actual historic facts, many from the writings of Pliny (which I read in Latin), into the story without bopping you over the head with them. Almost as an aside, for example, the hero mentions his father, also an aqueduct engineer, died from lead poisoning. That’s right, I thought to myself, I bet tons of Romans died younger (and crazier) than I’d have guessed from lead-tainted water.
The antagonist, a freed slave, made his fortune when Vesuvius-related earthquakes nearly destroyed Pompeii a generation before the 79 C.E. eruption. His reaction to the eruption made me wonder how many real estate speculators saw Hurricane Ike as an opportunity instead of a life-threatening disaster. It will be interesting in a couple of years, although probably depressing, to look at post-Ike consolidation on the property tax rolls in Galveston.