Antony and Cleopatra, by Colleen McCullough

Cleopatra was waiting, dressed now in filmy layers of gauze…The style was neither Greek nor Roman nor Asian, but something of her own, waisted, flared in the skirts, the bodice fitting her closely to show small breasts beneath; her thin little arms were softened by billowing sleeves that ended at the elbows to allow room for bracelets up her forearms. Around her neck she wore a gold chain from which dangled, enclosed in a cage of finest golden wire, a single pearl the size and colour of a strawberry. Antony’s gaze was drawn to it immediately; he gasped, eyes growing to her face in astonishment.

Julius Caesar is dead, leaving two men wanting to lead the Roman empire. One is his nephew Octavian, a brilliant man but sickly, and seen by many as too weak to lead. The other is Mark Antony, who believes he should have been Caesar’s heir. Meanwhile, Cleopatra, Julius Ceasar’s lover and Egypt’s Queen, seeks more power – not for herself, but for her son, Caesarion, who she wants to rule the entire world. When she and Antony come together, each is determined to get what they want.

Antony and Cleopatra is the tale of this star-crossed pair and the times in which they lived. This is not a romance, but an epic, exposing with historical detail the machinations and intrigues of the time. Vastly different to Shakespeare’s tale of the same name, this is history with an authentic, if at times slightly dry, feel.

Antony and Cleopatra is the final instalment in author Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series, but this reviewer had not read the previous offerings and did not feel disadvantaged by this. At times, though, it was hard to connect with the big cast of characters and to keep track of minor players.

Overall, this is an intriguing piece of historical fiction.

Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra, by Colleen McCullough
Harper Collins, 2007

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On, Off by Colleen McCullough

‘I don’t suspect anyone, and that’s my worst worry. I should suspect someone. So why don’t I? What I do have is a sense that I’m missing something right under my nose…’

It is 1965 and at a prestigious medical research facility in Connecticut, familiarly known as the ‘Hug’, a chilling discovery is made – the dismembered remains of a teenage girl, stored in a refrigerator with dead laboratory animals. Lieutenant Carmine Delmonico is put in charge of the investigation and soon begins to suspect that this victim is just the latest in a string of horrifying disappearances.

With the Hug in turmoil and every member of staff seemingly with something to hide, Delmonico comes up against dead ends with each new path his investigation takes. The killer seems always two steps ahead of him. As more teenagers disappear, it is a race against time for Delmonico and his team.

As a thriller, On,Off is new territory for master storyteller Colleen McCullough, but draws on old ground for her – McCullough was a neuroscientist for twenty years before she was published, hence the use of a neurological research facility as the centre point for much of the action. The storyline is chilling yet absorbing, and woven in such a way that the reader is kept guessing right to the end.


On,Off, by Colleen McCullough
Harper Collins, 2005