Monday, March 17, 2008

Robert Harris: The Ghost

How refreshing! I just finished a book that was fun, fast paced, and hard to put down. Several of the books I’ve read recently were harder than this. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Robert Harris (which is almost everything he’s written). The Ghost did not disappoint.

Our protagonist is a professional ghostwriter. He has several celebrity autobiographies to his credit. But now he is selected for a new project – a political memoir.

A publishing company has paid a $10,000,000 advance for the memoirs of Adam Lang, former Prime Minister of Great Britain. The problem is that the political operative that was helping write the book has turned up dead, apparently after falling off the Martha’s Vineyard ferry, either as an accident or suicide victim. After nearly two years of work, the deadline is a month away, and the draft is totally useless.

As the new ghostwriter is on his way to meet Lang, news breaks that the former Prime Minister may have bent some rules in the war on terror. He is alleged to have ordered British special forces to kidnap four British citizens from Pakistan and turn them over to the CIA for interrogation. One is alleged to have died under torture. As the plot develops, the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague gets involved.

So we have a non-political ghostwriter walking into the middle of an escalating political crisis. Who has secrets to protect? Who might not like what the memoirs have to say? Was the original writer murdered? Was our writer hired because he’s a good writer, or because it’s safe to bet he can’t figure out what’s going on? What is going on in the interplay among Lang, his wife, and his long time assistant.

I rescanned the book, and never did find the name of the protagonist – a fitting touch for a ghostwriter. As I reflect on The Ghost, I think of a couple other layers of meaning. But I can’t really say much more without tipping too much of the plot. But overall, another winner for Robert Harris.

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