When F. said I would enjoy Agatha Christie’s ‘The Pale Horse’ I was dubious, its underlying theme being Black Magic, not one of my favourite subjects. However, she was proved eminently right – it is, for my part, one of the best Christie novels. Exciting, believable, good despite Poirot’s absence…a thoroughly entertaining read. The characters are more strongly drawn than usual with her (this may be due to there being no Poirot and Hastings), and the plot moves along at pace whilst maintaining interest at every step. A really enjoyable read. I should take my wife’s advice more often perhaps.
In line with my policy of reading something more serious at the same time as my bedtime reading I chose another of my Folio books….‘Hannibal’. While admittedly dated, being first published in 1981, it is a good traditional historical ‘Life’. The author Ernle Bradford does draw on a wide range of sources and research but at the end of the day he has to rely largely on Polybius writing 50 years after Hannibal’s death, and Livy writing another 150 years later. This then is a classic case of history being written by the victors. In actual fact virtually nothing at all survives of the Carthaginian civilisation either in writing or on the ground, which is astonishing considering at one time it controlled a large part of the Mediterranean and its capital held half a million inhabitants. So Cato’s much repeated ‘Delenda set Carthago’ turned out to be really what happened. But at the time of the Second of the Three Punic Wars with Hannibal in charge of Carthage’s Italian army, things were very different. It could so easily have been Rome that was the loser. Hannibal’s magnificent battlefield victories at Trasimene, Cannae and at the siege of Capua absolutely devastated the Romans, and Hannibal at any of these junctures could so easily have marched on Rome itself and with some siege equipment (which he never had) have taken it. Perhaps as his cavalry commander Maharbal said Hannibal knew how to win victory but not to use it. This then is the story of a great general and at the same time a story of how Rome came to be the astonishing conqueror of virtually the whole of Western civilisation. A gripping read.