Unfortunately for Cicero, his assessment of Octavian—“he’s a nice boy, and I hope he survives, but he’s no Caesar”—proves...

DICTATOR

Set during the last gasp of the Roman Republic, the final volume of Harris’ Cicero trilogy chronicles the great Roman statesman’s fateful encounters with both Julius and Augustus Caesar.

Harris has written smart, gripping thrillers with settings as varied as England during World War II (Enigma, 1995) and the contemporary world of international finance (The Fear Index, 2012), but his Cicero novels are more akin to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall in their subjects—men of towering intellect and humanity—and in their visceral evocation of history. The first two books, Imperium and Conspirata, recounted events familiar only to classical history buffs—Cicero’s rise from relative obscurity to become one of Rome’s leading lawyers, orators, and writers and, in 63 B.C.E., getting the top job, consul. This third book starts with his exile after running afoul of Julius Caesar, the brilliant general whose dangerous ambition Cicero alone seems to grasp. The plot hurtles toward the most famous incident in all of Roman history—the assassination of Caesar. Cicero is not involved in the plot, but he assumes a major role in its aftermath as Mark Antony, an enemy, and Octavian (later Augustus), a young friend who is also Caesar’s adopted son, vie for leadership of the empire. The book is charming as well as engrossing, largely due to the immensely likable person of Cicero, who is wise but not pedantic, moral but not sanctimonious, courageous but wary of the grandstanding of the martyr. In Harris’ hands, the other principle actors emerge fully rounded: Cato, the uncompromising stoic; Pompey, brave but vainglorious; Crassus, greedy and self-serving; Brutus, whom Cicero feared “may have been educated out of his wits”; Julius Caesar, whose “success had made him vain, and his vanity had devoured his reason”; and Mark Antony, who “has all of Caesar’s worst qualities and none of his best.”

Unfortunately for Cicero, his assessment of Octavian—“he’s a nice boy, and I hope he survives, but he’s no Caesar”—proves fatally wrong.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-307-95794-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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