Midway through our lunch, Robert Harris lets slip that I am stepping in some pretty big footsteps. “I sat in this very pub with Boris Johnson 20 years ago,” the thriller writer says. Johnson had come to interview Harris about his Cicero trilogy of novels set in classical Rome, a subject of shared interest. “I occasionally got a word in,” he recalls with a chuckle.

“Here” is the dining room of the Dundas Arms, a picture-postcard expression of an English country inn, all neat gardens and mature trees, perched between a canal and the River Kennet. It is Harris’s local, a short walk from his home in an old vicarage in Kintbury, West Berkshire, and a minute or so from the station where he had met me off the London train. It is the day after the general election, with the crumpled journalist who once trekked out to meet Harris triumphantly returned as prime minister.

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