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on 20 June 2017
It’s a pretty interesting story of the last few days of Pompeii before Vesuvius blew, while also following a murder mystery; the new aquarius is trying to work out what happened to his predecessor while also dodging the hostility of the local landowners, navigating social situations and trying to work out what on earth is killing fish and draining the fountains.

I love the accuracy of the escalation; the local people really did have little idea of what was happening, and Harris has certainly done his research; I find it terrifying that people came back after that first initial blast, thinking it was just another quake, and then got killed by the pyroclastic flow that engulfed and preserved the city. The lives of the characters, although fictional, have enough tiny details to make the book fascinating and the story definitely readable. So it’s a thumbs-up from a history geek, and for anyone that likes an investigation story.
8 people found this helpful
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on 7 April 2017
I loved reading this book, it was compelling and so believable. It's a delicate love story set in Pompeii amongst the machinations of Roman leaders and busy daily life. Moving and so cleverly written, it's a brilliant historical drama. The characters are memorable and some of the events stayed with me long after I'd finished the book.
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on 18 October 2014
Highly enjoyable page-turner, difficult to put down.

Harris has done his research well; he approaches the monumental event of the Vesuvius eruption of AD79 with a great deal of knowledge about Roman culture and some volcanology as well. But he also brings characters to life - from the real life corpulent Pliny, admiral of the fleet in the bay, to historical characters such as Agrippa, and finally to his own fictional creations: the evil Ampliatus and his suffering daughter Corelia, and of course the main character, Marcus Attilius the engineer.

The author artfully intertwines the characters and their lives, all the while under the backdrop of the menacing and suppurating mountain, driving to an exciting climax as the eruption begins.

If I have one note to add (and hence 4*), Harris is a master of suspenseful storytelling but somehow just falls short in the humanistic/romantic stakes at the very end to land the human side of a well-written tale. Marcus and Coelia didn't quite get their author's dues, we are left to assume it came good.

Overall, very highly recommended.
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on 10 December 2013
I originally bought this in paperback a few years ago to take away on holiday, I picked this up in the morning and found that I couldn't leave to go eat in the evening until I had finished it. I READ THE WHOLE BOOK IN A SINGLE DAY. Please dont assume that this is a very short book, it is substantial and the level of detail is very high, it's just that the pace of the writing and the story means that you cannot put it down at any point. Through the whole book the story continues and grows in pace, until the inevitable, and though you look for a place to stop because you need a drink, the toilet or to eat you just cannot take your eyes away because you always want to know what happens next!

I was also gripped by this book for another reason. There are so many books, stories, documentaries that happen around Pompeii on that day but this is told from a different angle, the point of view of an Engineer, being an Engineer myself I instantly identified with him and followed the story through the whole way. It is such a unique take on the events and makes you think of how things could have been very different.

I bought this a second time to read on Kindle, and again read it as soon as I had bought it, and got through it is just over 1 day this time, I had to stop because my battery went dead and I was nowhere near a socket to charge. So remember if you buy this on Kindle, make sure it is fully charged before you begin, you'll need every last drop.
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on 30 October 2015
When I think back about this book, I get the impression that I almost lived through it... in a good way though and without all the pumice spewing out of the volcano! Harris makes viaduct management fascinating and thoughtful to the extent that I could feel the characters passion for it... This may seem a daft thing to say until you have felt the anthropomorphic network of tunnels, dams, trenches and underground reservoirs....the plot is compelling, nicely paced and the tight prose has a maximum of impact. RH has an incredible ability to capture the sensation of living through history making the novel an enriching experience... If you haven't read the Cicero trilogy then this should warm you up nicely for it. I'd like to think that one day we might meet up so I can find out how he does it!
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on 25 May 2016
Having visited Pompeii and read quite a few books on the subject I didn't really enjoy this book very much. There were certain insights into Roman aqueducts and as to the mental thought processes of those confronted with the situation as well as some of the physical manifestations of the eruption towards the end but I found it generally rather turgid. Certainly not the page turner other reviewers have said. Perhaps I just prefer the factual books
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on 29 April 2016
A difficult story to tell; so obviously filled out with inconsequentials. Loved the style. Loved the historical accuracy and bringing Pliny to life. A good read if you've ever been interested in Pompeii or vulcanology, plus like the easy, realistic style of Harris. I wondered how he would end it (OK apart from the obvious), but I think he has worked it well. Right time frame and right length of book in which to tell it. I would give it five stars except that the subject matter does not allow it, that it is all, but, for the telling of this story it is definitely ten out of ten.
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on 22 February 2017
Having visited the sites and watched documentaries on volcanic eruptions, pyroplastic flow and other technical theories. I thought this would be an interesting way of seeing how the people living at the awful time went about their daily business. Using a young engineer as the focus was a novel idea which allowed us to witness how he was able to investigate and piece things together. The climax was also dramatically told.
Only wish I'd read it before visiting the sites.
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on 14 January 2018
I find all of Harris’s novels are compelling reads and this is no exception. His prose reads easily and the flow of story is transporting as is the character detail which which he populates the pages. Want to know what it feels like to have lived in the time and to have witnessed one of the great tragedies of the age? Read this book!
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on 11 August 2016
It's hard to imagine a better thriller. The action takes place on a time-bomb: Vesuvius in 79 AD, four days before it erupted and buried Pompeii. The writing is elegant, the plotting has a mechanical perfection and the characters, particularly the historian and Roman administrator, Pliny the Younger, are memorable. The book is also a well-researched portrait of life in the Roman Empire. I'd gladly read it again more slowly than growing excitement made me read it the first time.
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