Robert Harris is today's Robert Graves, not only in his choice of subject matter, but in his storytelling. Just as Graves chose a slave to tell the story of Count Belisarius in 1938, Harris chooses Tiro. This is no minor matter or coincidence, as the entire point of view comes from this narrator, giving him both intimacy and distance, a trick Graves used to excellent effect. Harris takes up Graves' cynical view of Rome - as in both the Claudius books and Belisarius - complete with a raging politics of immorality and power grabbing. The one missing ingredient is the centrality of venal women in all of Graves' books.In this day of feminism, women are minor characters characters, occasionally bad (Clodia, for example) or weak (wife Terentia -'Marriage to you has been the only purpose of my life!'), but the true villains are all testosterone fuelled men like Caesar, Pompey, Catilina, etc. This makes Lustrum read a bit old fashioned, and Graves much more modern.
Cicero is a legal Belisarius, moral and upright, in a world that does not value this kind of valour. Harris fills the story with wordy set pieces, so appropriate for his windbag hero. The best part of the story is how Cicero is brought down by his own hubris and blindness to other's resentments and designs. Is Cicero meant to be Harris's former friend Tony Blair, another windbag brought down by hubris? I enjoyed the tale despite all of this. I don't think Harris is great at dialogue, and his tale is also let down sometimes by leaden prose. But there is enough in Lustrum to keep you reading until the story comes to second act conclusion. Now we await the third.