This is the story of a latter day Super Mario, an Italian plumber who overcomes very difficult challenges to fix the water supply to Napoli and surrounding areas before the local volcano erupts to ruin everything for everybody.
OK, I admit that I am grossly trivialising a tremendous story, which is really about Marcus Attilius Primus, the aquarius, or chief water engineer, who is sent to the Bay of Naples to manage the water supply to all of the towns in the area. The main artery of the supply is the aqueduct, Aqua Augusta, which Attilius’s grandfather may have had a hand in building under the supervision of the great Agrippa. Water engineering has been the career path of Atillius’s family back through at least four generations.
From the off, Attilius is up against it. His predecessor disappeared mysteriously, and neither his team of engineers and slaves nor those masters who govern Naples and the surrounding area, are inclined to trust the new aquarius.
The first chapter opens with the horrendous execution of a slave who has been held responsible for the deaths of one of the local lord’s prize fish. The lord’s daughter, accompanied by the unfortunate slave’s mother, urgently seek the help of Attilius, who quickly discovers that it is something in the water which has killer the precious fish. But they are too late to save the wretched slave.
Events unfold and develop during the two days leading up to the famous eruption which buried Pompeii.
This is a rivetting read, if ever there was one. As you would expect, there are many dangers to overcome, and, as you read, you will be wondering who will survive and who will not. This does not become clear until the final pages. I have to confess that I was wishing for the demise of certain characters, whilst hoping for the survival of others. That is a sign of how well Robert Harris engages the reader with the actors in this story.
Definitely merits five stars.