Books by Robert Harris on black background.

Image: Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

Robert Harris is one of those authors whose books are recommended fervently by fans, and his fans encompass everyone from thriller readers to people who love literary fiction.

He has written 13 bestsellers, some of which have been made into films, including 2001's Enigma starring Kate Winslet and Dougray Scott.

Harris' latest novel, V2, is a Second World War thriller fans and critics are already hailing as a classic. If you're new to the author's work – or looking for your next fix after V2 – these are the five books you should start with. 

Imperium (2006)

For his famous Cicero Trilogy, Harris turned his pen to Ancient Rome. The action of this political thriller begins when  Tiro, the confidential secretary of a Roman senator, opens the door to a terrified stranger. That person is a victim of Sicily’s corrupt Roman governor Verres, and the Roman senator is Cicero who wants to attain imperium: supreme power in the state. Told from the point of view of Tiro, this trio of novels describes Cicero’s fight to reach the top.

Reviewing the book in The Guardian, Tom Holland said: "Harris, like an excavator restoring a shattered mosaic, uses material native to the Romans whenever he can, fitting the fragments of real speeches and letters into the patterns of his own reconstruction. The result is an experiment as bold as it is unexpected: a novel that draws so scrupulously on the Roman source material that it forgoes much of what are traditionally regarded as the prime features of the thriller." 

An Officer and a Spy (2013)

This novel is based on the tue story of a French officer who struggles to expose the truth about the doctored evidence that convicted a spy.

Set in Paris in 1985, An Officer and a Spy follows an army officer, Georges Picquart, and a convicted spy, Alfred Dreyfus. The latter is exiled for life to a place called Devil’s Island, while Picquart is promoted to run the intelligence unit that tracked him down. But when Picquart finds out secrets are still being leaked to the Germans, he is drawn into a search for the truth.

An Officer and a Spy won the 2014 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, with the judges saying: "An Officer and A Spy is a masterwork, a novel written by a story-teller at the pinnacle of his powers. In making compelling literary drama out of the Dreyfus affair, an episode familiar to many, Robert Harris has done something Walter Scott would have been proud of."

Pompeii (2003)

In 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying Pompeii and killing nearly all of its citizens. It’s a well known story, but Harris makes it seem unfamiliar, exciting and full of tension in his 2003 novel.

Following four citizens - a young engineer, an adolescent girl, a corrupt millionaire and an elderly scientist - Harris creates a picture of a city on the brink of destruction.

Writing in The New York Times, Daniel Mendelsohn called the novel "terrific and prodigiously researched”.

"Harris's latest thriller is so cunningly devised that, however unsurprising its denouement is, it still manages to end with a bang,” wrote Mendelsohn. 

Munich (2017)

In this novel, Harris takes the Munich Agreement of 1938, which saw Czechoslovakia being handed over to Nazi Germany, as his setting. But instead of telling the story of the agreement through the eyes of the famous attendees – who included Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler – Harris focuses on a pair of diplomatic underlings. The two young men are former friends, but in Munich they find themselves on opposing sides of history.

The Financial Times’ Boyd Tonkin wrote in a review: "Harris excels in close-focus scenes of history being written – or rather, scrawled, ripped up and redrafted – in a blur of small-hours wrangles, whispered rumours, midnight phone calls, sleepless vigils and cross-town dashes, amid a tobacco fug of fear, panic and confusion." 

Conclave (2016)

It’s hard to imagine that reading about a group of men gathering in a room to vote on a successor would be captivating, thrilling reading. But in Harris’ hands, the election of a new Pope is just that. In Conclave, the Pope has died and 118 cardinals from across the world have gathered behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel for the world’s most secretive elective. They are holy men, but they have ambition and there are rivalries. Within 72 hours, one of them will become the most powerful spiritual figure on earth.

Reviewing in The Guardian, Ian Sansom said: "During my 25-odd years of writing about books I have done my best to avoid cliches, slipshod summaries, oracular pronouncements and indeed anything else that might appear emblazoned on a book jacket. Nonetheless, there is only one possible word to describe Robert Harris’s new novel, and it is this: unputdownable." 

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