The Ghost

( 81 )


From the bestselling author of Fatherland and Imperium comes The Ghost, an extraordinarily auspicious thriller of power, politics, corruption, and murder. Dashing, captivating Adam Lang was Britain's longest serving — and most controversial — prime minister of the last half century, whose career ended in tatters after he sided with America in an unpopular war on terror. Now, after stepping down in disgrace, Lang is hiding out in wintry Martha's Vineyard to finish his much sought-after, potentially explosive ...

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From the bestselling author of Fatherland and Imperium comes The Ghost, an extraordinarily auspicious thriller of power, politics, corruption, and murder. Dashing, captivating Adam Lang was Britain's longest serving — and most controversial — prime minister of the last half century, whose career ended in tatters after he sided with America in an unpopular war on terror. Now, after stepping down in disgrace, Lang is hiding out in wintry Martha's Vineyard to finish his much sought-after, potentially explosive memoir, for which he accepted one of history's largest cash advances. But the project runs aground when his ghostwriter suddenly and mysteriously disappears and later washes up, dead, on the island's deserted shore.

Enter our hero — Lang's new ghostwriter — cynical, mercenary, and quick with a line of deadpan humor. Accustomed to working with fading rock stars and minor celebrities, he jumps at the chance to be the new ghost of Adam Lang's memoirs, especially as it means a big payday. At once he flies to Lang's remote location in America to finish the book in the seclusion of a luxurious estate, but it doesn't take him long to realize he has made a fatal error in judgment.

The state of affairs is grim enough when the ghost begins to unearth the bone-chilling circumstances of his predecessor's death. And before long, he discovers that the ex-prime minister is not just a charismatic politician who made a few mistakes. He's a dark, tortured man with haunting secrets in his past — secrets with the power to alter world politics. Secrets with the power to kill.

Robert Harris is known the world over as a master of his trade. The Ghost is yet another signature, brilliant tour de force that will compel, captivate, and excite readers to the very last shocking page.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Packed with seduction, power and manipulation. . . .”

—USA Today

“The Ghost has got the goods.”

—Stephen King

Jonathan Freedland
Harris evidently intends to wield this conceit for a higher purpose than mere satire. As the narrator uncovers Lang's collusion in the C.I.A.'s treatment of terrorist suspects, Harris takes aim at the supine nature of the current "special relationship" between Britain and the United States…Harris gets all this off his chest without smothering his storytelling. Even when he attacks extraordinary rendition and state-indulged torture, he maintains a taut, clear narrative line. The plot is unfussy and perhaps too linear for those thriller readers fond of pyrotechnics, but it unfolds with clarity and panache—and with a classy twist on the very last page. Unusually for the genre, the novel is also nicely lubricated with humor.
—The New York Times
Patrick Anderson
For all its fun, The Ghost is finally about Guantanamo, rendition, waterboarding, official lies, a Halliburton-like conglomerate called Hallington and a CIA that's not always as inept as we think. Harris is asking at least three serious questions. First, in a conflict in which billions of dollars in cash are floating around the war zone, and more billions can be had from various kinds of corruption, should we be surprised if people who find out too much are murdered? Another question is why a popular British prime minister would commit political suicide by embracing an American war his people hate. The prime minister's own answer is that he believed with all his heart in the necessity of the war. That, however, isn't the answer Harris offers. It's not even close. Finally, he's asking if decent people have a chance against the modern embodiments of Big Brother. By the end of the novel, our nameless narrator recalls George Orwell's Winston at the close of 1984. Neither ending can be called upbeat. Harris has managed to write a superior entertainment that is also an angry portrait of today's political reality.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Displaying enviable versatility, Harris, who first achieved acclaim with his alternative history, Fatherland, and who more recently showed his mastery of the historical novel in Pompeii, hits one out of the park with this dark paranoid thriller. Former British prime minister Adam Lang (clearly modeled on Tony Blair) is up against a firm deadline to submit his memoirs to his publisher, and the project is dangerously derailed when his aide and collaborator, Michael McAra, perishes in a ferry accident off the coast of Martha's Vineyard. To salvage the book, a professional ghostwriter is hired to whip the manuscript into shape, but the unnamed writer soon finds that separating truth from fiction in Lang's recollections a challenge. The stakes rise when Lang is accused of war crimes for authorizing the abduction of suspected al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan, who then ended up in the CIA's merciless hands. As the new writer probes deeper, he uncovers evidence that his predecessor's death may have been a homicide. Harris nicely leavens his cynical tale with gallows humor, and even readers who anticipate the plot's final twist will admire the author's artistry in creating an intelligent page-turner that tackles serious issues. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Big money lures a professional ghostwriter into a rush job-rewriting the memoirs of the former British prime minister in a month. By the way, the last guy on the job may have been murdered. Harris (Imperium, 2006, etc.) returns with an amusing, fast-paced thriller that inserts a non-political writer into the life of an out-of-office but still controversial British politician, Adam Lang, who bears a marked resemblance to Tony Blair. Purely coincidental, of course. The narrator is a ghostwriter who, teasingly, is never named. He's made a living turning the semi-reliable memories of a wide range of celebrities into readable "autobiographies," a highly specialized career that, with his Cambridge education, makes him the right man to earn $250,000 turning the turgid draft of Lang's memoirs into something someone would actually want to read. The publisher, having advanced $10,000,000 and committed to a publication date one month hence, is desperate. Lang's longtime political assistant wrote the wretched draft after much research, but either flung himself or was flung from the ferry to Martha's Vineyard, where the ex-PM is holed up with wife and staff in the publisher's cottage until the book is fixed. Just as the writer is getting a grasp on the work, Lang is charged by the World Court with war crimes for a deed he may have committed on behalf of the Yanks, who are still bogged down in Iraq. It's the perfect hook for the rewrite, but the charge puts the household in a world-class dither. And it sends the writer deeper into Lang's past. The more he learns, the less he likes Lang's long involvement with the Americans, a relationship that cooked him politically in Britain. And the less he comes totrust Lang's official memories. When he stumbles on materials collected by his late predecessor, it becomes clear that the dead biographer learned far too much about the politician-information that threatens everybody, including the ghostwriter. Very slick, rather tense, sophisticated and amusing. Agent: Michael Carlisle/InkWell Management
The Barnes & Noble Review
The Ghost, the entertaining and sometimes exasperating political thriller by Robert Harris, about a former British prime minister trapped in a web of lies, starts out with a whopper of its own. Before the first sentence, on the copyright page, there it is: "Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental."

Oh, puhleeze.

Harris, as political junkies may know, is a former columnist for the Sunday Times of London who has also won a wide readership for his historical thrillers (Fatherland, Pompeii). Soon after his first meeting with Tony Blair in 1992, he became an avid booster of Britain's charismatic prime minister. That all changed with Blair's unwavering support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which Harris opined against and still feels was a colossal blunder. Disillusioned and angered, the author now takes sharp aim at subsequent events through his thinly veiled characters in The Ghost.

The story opens with this tell-me-more sentence by the first-person narrator, whose name we never learn: "The moment I heard how McAra died, I should have walked away."

The dead man, Mike McAra, is the ghost writer originally hired to write the memoirs of Adam Lang, the enigmatic former British prime minister. He was last seen on a Martha's Vineyard ferry, and his body has washed ashore in the winter surf under mysterious circumstances.

With a deadline looming and a record-breaking $10 million advance in the balance, Lang's people scramble to find a new writer. Our narrator, whose previous projects include the "autobiographies" of a second-rate magician, an inarticulate soccer star, and a self-aggrandizing rocker, jumps at the chance to sit next to real power.

As the deal gets hammered out -- $250,000 for a month's work -- Harris takes his tale on a dour and funny detour to poke fun at the book industry. He also gives a shout-out to fellow writers:

A book unwritten is a delightful universe of infinite possibilities. Set down one word, however, and immediately it becomes earthbound. Set down one sentence and it's halfway to being just like every other bloody book that's ever been written. But the best must not be allowed to drive out the good. In the absence of genius, there's always craftsmanship.
Harris gets our hero onto terra firma in Martha's Vineyard, where he moves in with Lang, his whip-smart wife, Ruth, and Lang's entourage. They're ensconced in a borrowed mansion, ready to work on the book, when a political scandal breaks. It turns out that Lang green-lighted the CIA kidnapping of four British citizens -- alleged terrorists -- in Pakistan. One of the men died under interrogation; the other three wound up in Guant?namo. Lang now stands accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Court. If he goes home to England to try to clear his name, he risks imprisonment. But since the United States doesn't recognize the ICC, so as long as Lang stays put in Martha's Vineyard, he's safe.

It's a tough call for a proud politician and it frays his already shaky marriage. Here's Harris, sending the ghost writer into the maw of one of the Lang's endless arguments. We're looking through the ghost writer's eyes at Adam Lang, but it turns out to be little different than looking through Harris's eyes at his tarnished hero, Tony Blair.

Lang didn't look at her, he looked at me. And, oh, what layers of meaning there were to be read in those glaucous eyes! He invited me, in that long instant, to see what had become of him: stripped of his power, abused by his enemies, haunted, homesick, trapped between his wife and mistress. You could write a hundred pages about that one brief look and still not get to the end of it.
Despite the tumult, work on the memoir continues. The more the ghost writer learns about Adam Lang, the less he seems to know. The biggest mystery centers around what really happened during Lang's college years. As our hero digs for answers, he comes up with a shocking motive for McAra's mysterious death.

After a languid start, the final third of the book blazes to a satisfying close. Mystery buffs, political junkies, and conspiracy theorists will all find plenty to enjoy. There's a particularly nifty chase sequence involving the GPS unit in a borrowed car. Harris takes full advantage of the setting for Lang's exile from power -- the bitter winter landscape of a deserted Martha's Vineyard. It's impossible to hear the place names without thinking of summer residents like the Clintons and the Kennedys.

Even the title, The Ghost, reverberates. Sure, it's the ghost writer brought in to drive the plot. But Adam Lang, removed from power, takes on a ghostly cast. And given the part the CIA plays in the terrific twist at the very end of the tale, the slang term for its operatives -- spooks -- takes on significance.

"I have friends in Washington who just can't believe the way that Lang ran British foreign policy," a character tells the ghost writer near the end of the book. "I mean, they were embarrassed by how much support he gave and how little he got in return. And where has it got us? Stuck fighting a so-called war we can't possibly win, colluding in methods we didn't use even when we were up against the Nazis!" In the end, The Ghost reads like an angry letter from the author to Tony Blair. Harris can deny it all he wants. With passages like these, though, he hasn't a ghost of a chance at being persuasive. --Veronique de Turenne

Veronique de Turenne is a Los Angeles-based journalist, essayist and playwright. Her literary criticism appears on NPR and in major American newspapers.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416551829
  • Publisher: Pocket Star
  • Publication date: 8/19/2008
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 213,479
  • Product dimensions: 6.62 (w) x 4.08 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Harris is the author of Pompeii, Enigma, and Fatherland. He has been a television correspondent with the BBC and a newspaper columnist for the London Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph. His novels have sold more than ten million copies and been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Berkshire, England, with his wife and four children.

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Read an Excerpt


Of all the advantages that ghosting offers, one of the greatest must be the opportunity that you get to meet people of interest.
Andrew Crofts,

THE MOMENT I HEARD how McAra died, I should have walked away. I can see that now. I should have said, "Rick, I'm sorry, this isn't for me, I don't like the sound of it," finished my drink, and left. But he was such a good storyteller, Rick — I often thought he should have been the writer and I the literary agent — that once he'd started talking there was never any question I wouldn't listen, and by the time he had finished, I was hooked.

The story, as Rick told it to me over lunch that day, went like this: McAra had caught the last ferry from Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to Martha's Vineyard two Sundays earlier. I worked out afterward it must have been January the twelfth. It was touch-and-go whether the ferry would sail at all. A gale had been blowing since midafternoon and the last few crossings had been canceled. But toward nine o'clock the wind eased slightly, and at nine forty-five the master decided it was safe to cast off. The boat was crowded; McAra was lucky to get a space for his car. He parked belowdecks and then went upstairs to get some air.

No one saw him alive again.

The crossing to the island usually takes forty-five minutes, but on this particular night the weather slowed the voyage considerably: docking a two-hundred-foot vessel in a fifty-knot wind, said Rick, is nobody's idea of fun. It was nearly eleven when the ferry made land at Vineyard Haven and the cars started up — all except one: a brandnew tan-colored Ford Escape SUV. The purser made a loudspeaker appeal for the owner to return to his vehicle, as he was blocking the drivers behind him. When he still didn't show, the crew tried the doors, which turned out to be unlocked, and freewheeled the big Ford down to the quayside. Afterward they searched the ship with care: stairwells, bar, toilets, even the lifeboats — nothing. They called the terminal at Woods Hole to check if anyone had disembarked before the boat sailed or had perhaps been accidentally left behind — again: nothing. That was when an official of the Massachusetts Steamship Authority finally contacted the Coast Guard station in Falmouth to report a possible man overboard.

A police check on the Ford's license plate revealed it to be registered to one Martin S. Rhinehart of New York City, although Mr. Rhinehart was eventually tracked down to his ranch in California. By now it was about midnight on the East Coast, nine p.m. on the West.

"This is the Marty Rhinehart?" I interrupted.

"This is he."

Rhinehart immediately confirmed over the telephone to the police that the Ford belonged to him. He kept it at his house on Martha's Vineyard for the use of himself and his guests in the summer. He also confirmed that, despite the time of year, a group of people were staying there at the moment. He said he would get his assistant to call the house and find out if anyone had borrowed the car. Half an hour later she rang back to say that someone was indeed missing, a person by the name of McAra.

Nothing more could be done until first light. Not that it mattered. Everyone knew that if a passenger had gone overboard it would be a search for a corpse. Rick is one of those irritatingly fit Americans in their early forties who look about nineteen and do terrible things to their body with bicycles and canoes. He knows that sea: he once spent two days paddling a kayak the entire sixty miles round the island. The ferry from Woods Hole plies the strait where Vineyard Sound meets Nantucket Sound, and that is dangerous water. At high tide you can see the force of the currents sucking the huge channel buoys over onto their sides. Rick shook his head. In January, in a gale, in snow? No one could survive more than five minutes.

A local woman found the body early the next morning, thrown up on the beach about four miles down the island's coast at Lambert's Cove. The driver's license in the wallet confirmed him to be Michael James McAra, age fifty, from Balham in south London. I remember feeling a sudden shot of sympathy at the mention of that dreary, unexotic suburb: he certainly was a long way from home, poor devil. His passport named his mother as his next of kin. The police took his corpse to the little morgue in Vineyard Haven and then drove over to the Rhinehart residence to break the news and to fetch one of the other guests to identify him.

It must have been quite a scene, said Rick, when the volunteer guest finally showed up to view the body: "I bet the morgue attendant is still talking about it." There was one patrol car from Edgartown with a flashing blue light, a second car with four armed guards to secure the building, and a third vehicle, bombproof, carrying the instantly recognizable man who, until eighteen months earlier, had been the prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

THE LUNCH HAD BEEN Rick's idea. I hadn't even known he was in town until he rang me the night before. He insisted we meet at his club. It was not his club, exactly — he was actually a member of a similar mausoleum in Manhattan, whose members had reciprocal dining rights in London — but he loved it all the same. At lunchtime only men were admitted. Each wore a dark blue suit and was over sixty; I hadn't felt so young since I left university. Outside, the winter sky pressed down on London like a great gray tombstone. Inside, yellow electric light from three immense candelabra glinted on dark polished tables, plated silverware, and rubied decanters of claret. A small card placed between us announced that the club's annual backgammon tournament would be taking place that evening. It was like the changing of the guard or the houses of parliament — a foreigner's image of England.

"I'm amazed this hasn't been in the papers," I said.

"Oh, but it has. Nobody's made a secret of it. There've been obituaries."

And, now I came to think of it, I did vaguely remember seeing something. But I had been working fifteen hours a day for a month to finish my new book, the autobiography of a footballer, and the world beyond my study had become a blur.

"What on earth was an ex-prime minister doing identifying the body of a man from Balham who fell off the Martha's Vineyard ferry?"

"Michael McAra," announced Rick, with the emphatic delivery of a man who has flown three thousand miles to deliver this punch line, "was helping him write his memoirs."

And this is where, in that parallel life, I express polite sympathy for the elderly Mrs. McAra ("such a shock to lose a child at that age"), fold my heavy linen napkin, finish my drink, say good-bye, and step out into the chilly London street with the whole of my undistinguished career stretching safely ahead of me. Instead I excused myself, went to the club's lavatory, and studied an unfunny Punch cartoon while urinating thoughtfully.

"You realize I don't know anything about politics?" I said when I got back.

"You voted for him, didn't you?"

"Adam Lang? Of course I did. Everybody voted for him. He wasn't a politician; he was a craze."

"Well, that's the point. Who's interested in politics? In any case, it's a professional ghostwriter he needs, my friend, not another goddamned politico." He glanced around. It was an iron rule of the club that no business could be discussed on the premises — a problem for Rick, seeing as he never discussed anything else. "Marty Rhinehart paid ten million dollars for these memoirs on two conditions. First, it'd be in the stores within two years. Second, Lang wouldn't pull any punches about the war on terror. From what I hear, he's nowhere near meeting either requirement. Things got so bad around Christmas, Rhinehart gave him the use of his vacation house on the Vineyard so that Lang and McAra could work without any distractions. I guess the pressure must have gotten to McAra. The state medical examiner found enough booze in his blood to put him four times over the driving limit."

"So it was an accident?"

"Accident? Suicide?" He casually fl icked his hand. "Who'll ever know? What does it matter? It was the book that killed him."

"That's encouraging," I said.

While Rick went on with his pitch, I stared at my plate and imagined the former prime minister looking down at his assistant's cold white face in the mortuary — staring down at his ghost, I suppose one could say. How did it feel? I am always putting this question to my clients. I must ask it a hundred times a day during the interview phase: How did it feel? How did it feel? And mostly they can't answer, which is why they have to hire me to supply their memories; by the end of a successful collaboration I am more them than they are. I rather enjoy this process, to be honest: the brief freedom of being someone else. Does that sound creepy? If so, let me add that real craftsmanship is required. I not only extract from people their life stories, I impart a shape to those lives that was often invisible; sometimes I give them lives they never even realized they had. If that isn't art, what is?

I said, "Should I have heard of McAra?"

"Yes, so let's not admit you haven't. He was some kind of aide when Lang was prime minister. Speechwriting, policy research, political strategy. When Lang resigned, McAra stayed with him, to run his offi ce."

I grimaced. "I don't know, Rick."

Throughout lunch I'd been half watching an elderly television actor at the next table. He'd been famous when I was a child for playing the single parent of teenage girls in a sitcom. Now, as he rose unsteadily and started to shuffle toward the exit, he looked as though he'd been made up to act the role of his own corpse. That was the type of person whose memoirs I ghosted: people who had fallen a few rungs down the celebrity ladder, or who had a few rungs left to climb, or who were just about clinging to the top and were desperate to cash in while there was still time. I was abruptly overwhelmed by the ridiculousness of the whole idea that I might collaborate on the memoirs of a prime minister.

"I don't know — " I began again, but Rick interrupted me.

"Rhinehart Inc. are getting frantic. They're holding a beauty parade at their London offi ce tomorrow morning. Maddox himself is fl ying over from New York to represent the company. Lang's sending the lawyer who negotiated the original deal for him — the hottest fi xer in Washington, a very smart guy by the name of Sidney Kroll. I've other clients I could put in for this, so if you're not up for it, just tell me now. But from the way they've been talking, I think you're the best fi t."

"Me? You're kidding."

"No. I promise you. They need to do something radical — take a risk. It's a great opportunity for you. And the money will be good. The kids won't starve."

"I don't have any kids."

"No," said Rick with a wink, "but I do."

WE PARTED ON THE steps of the club. Rick had a car waiting outside with its engine running. He didn't offer to drop me any where, which made me suspect he was off to see another client, to whom he would make exactly the same pitch he had just made to me. What is the collective noun for a group of ghosts? A train? A town? A haunt? At any rate, Rick had plenty of us on his books. Take a look at the bestseller lists: you would be amazed how much of it is the work of ghosts, novels as well as nonfi ction. We are the phantom operatives who keep publishing going, like the unseen workers beneath Walt Disney World. We scuttle along the subterranean tunnels of celebrity, popping up here and there, dressed as this character or that, preserving the seamless illusion of the Magic Kingdom.

"See you tomorrow," he said, and dramatically, in a puff of exhaust fumes, he was gone: Mephistopheles on a fifteen percent commission. I stood for a minute, undecided, and if I had been in another part of London it is still just possible things might have gone differently. But I was in that narrow zone where Soho washes up against Covent Garden: a trash-strewn strip of empty theaters, dark alleys, red lights, snack bars, and bookshops — so many bookshops you can start to feel ill just looking at them, from the tiny little rip-off specialist dealers in Cecil Court to the cut-price behemoths of Charing Cross Road. I often drop into one of the latter, to see how my titles are displayed, and that was what I did that afternoon. Once inside, it was only a short step across the scuffed red carpet of the "Biography & Memoir" department, and suddenly I had gone from "Celebrity" to "Politics."

I was surprised by how much they had on the former prime minister — an entire shelf, everything from the early hagiography, Adam Lang: Statesman for Our Time, to a recent hatchet job titled Would You Adam and Eve It? The Collected Lies of Adam Lang, both by the same author. I took down the thickest biography and opened it at the photographs: Lang as a toddler, feeding a bottle of milk to a lamb beside a drystone wall, Lang as Lady Macbeth in a school play, Lang dressed as a chicken in a Cambridge University Footlights revue, Lang as a distinctly stoned-looking merchant banker in the nineteen seventies, Lang with his wife and young children on the doorstep of a new house, Lang wearing a rosette and waving from an open-topped bus on the day he was elected to parliament, Lang with his colleagues, Lang with world leaders, with pop stars, with soldiers in the Middle East. A bald customer in a scuffed leather coat browsing the shelf next to me stared at the cover. He held his nose with one hand and mimed flushing a toilet with the other.

I moved around the corner of the bookcase and looked up McAra, Michael in the index. There were only five or six innocuous references — no reason, in other words, why anyone outside the party or the government need ever have heard of him, so to hell with you, Rick, I thought. I flicked back to the photograph of the prime minister seated smiling at the cabinet table, with his Downing Street staff arrayed behind him. The caption identified McAra as the burly figure in the back row. He was slightly out of focus — a pale, unsmiling, dark-haired smudge. I squinted more closely at him. He looked exactly the sort of unappealing inadequate who is congenitally drawn to politics and makes people like me stick to the sports pages. You'll find a McAra in any country, in any system, standing behind any leader with a political machine to operate: a greasy engineer in the boiler room of power. And this was the man who had been entrusted to ghost a ten-million-dollar memoir? I felt professionally affronted. I bought myself a small pile of research material and headed out of the bookshop with a growing conviction that maybe Rick was right: perhaps I was the man for the job.

It was obvious the moment I got outside that another bomb had gone off. At Tottenham Court Road people were surging up above ground from all four exits of the tube station like storm water from a blocked drain. A loudspeaker said something about "an incident at Oxford Circus." It sounded like an edgy romantic comedy: Brief Encounter meets the war on terror. I carried on up the road, unsure of how I would get home — taxis, like false friends, tending always to vanish at the first sign of trouble. In the window of one of the big electrical shops, the crowd watched the same news bulletin relayed simultaneously on a dozen televisions: aerial shots of Oxford Circus, black smoke gushing out of the underground station, thrusts of orange fl ame. An electronic ticker running across the bottom of the screen announced a suspected suicide bomber, many dead and injured, and gave an emergency number to call. Above the rooftops a helicopter tilted and circled. I could smell the smoke — an acrid, eye-reddening blend of diesel and burning plastic.

It took me two full hours to walk home, lugging my heavy bag of books — up to Marylebone Road and then westward toward Paddington. As usual, the entire tube system had been shut down to check for further bombs; so had the main railway stations. The traffi c on either side of the wide street was stalled and, on past form, would remain so until evening. (If only Hitler had known he didn't need a whole air force to paralyze London, I thought, just a revved-up teenager with a bottle of bleach and a bag of weed killer.) Occasionally a police car or an ambulance would mount the curb, roar along the pavement, and attempt to make progress up a side street.

I trudged on toward the setting sun.

It must have been six when I reached my flat. I had the top two floors of a high, stuccoed house in what the residents called Notting Hill and the post office stubbornly insisted was North Kensington. Used syringes glittered in the gutter; at the halal butchers opposite they did the slaughtering on the premises. It was grim. But from the attic extension that served as my office I had a view across west London that would not have disgraced a skyscraper: rooftops, railway yards, motorway, and sky — a vast urban prairie sky, sprinkled with the lights of aircraft descending toward Heathrow. It was this view that had sold me the apartment, not the estate agent's gentrification patter — which was just as well, as the rich bourgeoisie have no more returned to this area than they have to downtown Baghdad.

Kate had already let herself in and was watching the news. Kate: I had forgotten she was coming over for the evening. She was my —? I never knew what to call her. To say she was my girlfriend was absurd; no one the wrong side of thirty has a girlfriend. Partner wasn't right either, as we didn't live under the same roof. Lover? How could one keep a straight face? Mistress? Do me a favor. Fiancée? Certainly not. I suppose I ought to have realized it was ominous that forty thousand years of human language had failed to produce a word for our relationship. (Kate wasn't her real name, by the way, but I don't see why she should be dragged into all this. In any case, it suits her better than the name she does have: she looks like a Kate, if you know what I mean — sensible but sassy, girlish but always willing to be one of the boys. She worked in television, but let's not hold that against her.)

"Thanks for the concerned phone call," I said. "I'm dead, actually, but don't worry about it." I kissed the top of her head, dropped the books onto the sofa, and went into the kitchen to pour myself a whiskey. "The entire tube is down. I've had to walk all the way from Covent Garden."

"Poor darling," I heard her say. "And you've been shopping."

I topped up my glass with water from the tap, drank half, then topped it up again with whiskey. I remembered I was supposed to have reserved a restaurant. When I went back into the living room, she was removing one book after another from the carrier bag. "What's all this?" she said, looking up at me. "You're not interested in politics." And then she realized what was going on, because she was smart — smarter than I was. She knew what I did for a living, she knew I was meeting an agent, and she knew all about McAra. "Don't tell me they want you to ghost his book?" She laughed. "You cannot be serious." She tried to make a joke of it — "You cannot be serious" in an American accent, like that tennis player a few years ago — but I could see her dismay. She hated Lang, felt personally betrayed by him. She used to be a party member. I had forgotten that, too.

"It'll probably come to nothing," I said and drank some more whiskey.

She went back to watching the news, only now with her arms tightly folded, always a warning sign. The ticker announced that the death toll was seven and likely to rise.

"But if you're offered it you'll do it?" she asked, without turning to look at me.

I was spared having to reply by the newsreader announcing that they were cutting live to New York to get the reaction of the former prime minister, and suddenly there was Adam Lang, at a podium marked "Waldorf-Astoria," where it looked as though he had been addressing a lunch. "You will all by now have heard the tragic news from London," he said, "where once again the forces of fanaticism and intolerance..."

Nothing he uttered that night warrants reprinting. It was almost a parody of what a politician might say after a terrorist attack. Yet, watching him, you would have thought his own wife and children had been eviscerated in the blast. This was his genius: to refresh and elevate the clichés of politics by the sheer force of his performance. Even Kate was briefly silenced. Only when he had finished and his largely female, mostly elderly audience was rising to applaud did she mutter, "What's he doing in New York, anyway?"


"Why can't he lecture here?"

"I suppose because no one here would pay him a hundred thousand dollars a throw."

She pressed Mute.

"There was a time," said Kate slowly, after what felt like a very long silence, "when princes taking their countries to war were supposed to risk their lives in battle — you know, lead by example. Now they travel around in bombproof cars with armed bodyguards and make fortunes three thousand miles away, while the rest of us are stuck with the consequences of their actions. I just don't understand you," she went on, turning to look at me properly for the first time. "All the things I've said about him over the past few years — 'war criminal' and the rest of it — and you've sat there nodding and agreeing. And now you're going to write his propaganda for him, and make him richer. Did none of it ever mean anything to you at all?"

"Hold on a minute," I said. "You're a fine one to talk. You've been trying to get an interview with him for months. What's the difference?"

"What's the difference? Christ!" She clenched her hands — those slim white hands I knew so well — and raised them in frustration, half claw, half fist. The sinews stood out in her arms. "What's the difference? We want to hold him to account — that's the difference! To ask him proper questions! About torturing and bombing and lying! Not 'How does it feel?' Christ! This is a complete bloody waste of time."

She got up then and went into the bedroom to collect the bag she always brought on the nights she planned to stay. I heard her filling it noisily with lipstick, toothbrush, perfume spray. I knew if I went in I could retrieve the situation. She was probably expecting it; we'd had worse rows. I'd have been obliged to concede that she was right, acknowledge my unsuitability for the task, affirm her moral and intellectual superiority in this as in all things. It needn't even have been a verbal confession; a meaningful hug would probably have been enough to get me a suspended sentence. But the truth was, at that moment, given a choice between an evening of her smug left-wing moralizing and the prospect of working with a so-called war criminal, I preferred the war criminal. So I simply carried on staring at the television.

Sometimes I have a nightmare in which all the women I have ever slept with assemble together. It's a respectable rather than a huge number — were it a drinks party, say, my living room could accommodate them quite comfortably. And if, God forbid, this gathering were ever to occur, Kate would be the undisputed guest of honor. She is the one for whom a chair would be fetched, who would have her glass refilled by sympathetic hands, who would sit at the center of a disbelieving circle as my moral and physical flaws were dissected. She was the one who had stuck it the longest.

She didn't slam the door as she left but closed it very carefully. That was stylish, I thought. On the television screen the death toll had just increased to eight.

Copyright © 2007 by Robert Harris

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 81 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    enthralling political thriller

    Rhinehart Inc has paid former British Prime Minister Adam Lang a fortune to write his memoirs especially focusing on his war against terrorism; the project comes to a screeching halt when the ghostwriter Michael McAra dies in an apparent suicide. To bring the book back in on schedule, they hire a new ghostwriter who agrees to do the job in four weeks for a sizable fee.

    He travels from London to the Rhinehart Estate on Martha's Vineyard to write the autobiography. While in residence, he notices a lot of undercurrents including Lang's wife Ruth behaving very antagonistically towards her spouse's beautiful assistant. The book in its present form is a disaster, but the ghostwriter believes he can extract some spice out of the dry passages to insure a bestseller. A sordid scandal breaks involving Lang who supposedly ordered the SAS to kidnap suspected terrorists in Pakistan to rendition them to the CIA for torture. Since the new British government refuses to investigate, the International Criminal Court of the Hague starts it own inquiries. Although he has zero interest in politics, the Ghostwriter conducts an investigation only to find secrets that could lead to his death if he is lucky or worse.

    This is an enthralling political thriller that is totally frightening because Robert Harris makes his basic premise believable. There are many shocks to readers especially those who refuse to believe our side, the so called good guys, would resort to some of the tools of the trade. Almost as stunning is the dysfunctional inner circle that surrounds the former PM as everyone has an agenda to insure they look good in the autobiography. The Ghost Writer is a fascinating character as he knows no one is innocent, but needs to know who is the great puppeteer manipulating everyone even him. Mr. Harris, author of FATHERLAND, has written a chilling, plausible and enthralling tale.

    Harriet Klausner

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2008

    Political Games Galore

    The story revolves around politics and the intrigue that surrounds being part the behind the scenes goings on that happens when you are a known political figure. Taking place between England and Martha¿s Vineyard gives you a feel that political games are not limited to one country. Adam Lang, the retired prime minister of Britain, is having his memoirs ghost-written. But, the ¿ghost¿ is killed while returning to Martha¿s Vineyard by ferry. The police are unable to solve the case. Now a new ghostwriter must be found and our hero jumps at the chance. He has worked with aging rock stars before so he figures this can¿t be any worse. Beside, a quarter of a million dollars for a month¿s work? Who could pass that up? Off to America he goes only to find a manuscript that is very lacking in anything that anyone would want to read. He is installed in the dead ¿ghost¿s¿ old room and begins the process of finishing the manuscript. In doing so, he gets caught up in the unsolved death of the first ghost and ends up finding out more than he bargained for. Twists and turns, the book holds your attention to the very end. Even knowing this book is written about political games and the quick and devious turns it can take, the ending was a huge surprise for me. Roger Rees has a wonderful English accent to begin with so he was perfect for our English ghost writer hero. He gives each character enough of a chance in voice to be able to follow who is speaking and Mr. Rees¿ voice is easy on the ear. All in all, this is a good listen so be sure to get a copy for yourself.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2007

    Sox Nation on The Ghost

    This book MUST be good because I saw Stephen King reading it at Fenway Park during game one of the AL Championship Series - and it hasn't even been released yet. If it's more compelling than the Red Sox in post-season play, it needs no further recommendations.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2012

    Harris writes nail-biting, cerebral suspense

    If you enjoy suspenseful tales, Harris writes them. His trademark is a claustrophobic paranoia experienced by his protagonist. This book is a perfectly timed example, with dark settings & creepy characters always one step ahead. This bk was the basis for Polanski's "The Ghost Writer." The movie is very true to book.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 27, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A near perfect novel!

    Robert Harris once again crafts an amazing novel. Being American I felt totally immersed in this world of conflicting political views and ideologies without feeling "out of my element". The main character has a perfect flawed voice and the former Prime Minister, Adam Lang, is a truly interesting character. There tons of twists all of the them believable but still shocking. Overall a near perfect book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 21, 2010

    Tense and enlightening.

    A great read. Well written, interesting characters.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2010


    I thought the plot was intriguing and had lots of twists and turns. I certainly was not expecting the ending! Would very much recommend it. Also a fast read....

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2013

    I really enjoyed this book.

    I liked the way the author included factual information about the responsibilities and rules for being a Ghost writer.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Topical political thriller.

    This was the first book I read by the author and was very pleased with the story line and characters. After reading an article in the "New York Times" about the movie, "The Ghostwriter", I decided to read the book. The protagonist acts and reacts to the events like a normal person would. If you want a political thriller where the character saves the world from catastrophe, this book is not for you. Am looking forward to the movie.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 5, 2014

    Interesting book

    My interest was held in this book not by the character or the plot or the nuances and twists provided by the author, but by the entire concept of what a 'ghostwriter' must put up with in just being a 'ghostwriter.' I've always been interested in exactly what went into ghostwriting and this novel, despite its turgidity, gave me insights I might not find elsewhere.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2014

    Best in some time for me!

    If you are in to political intrigue this one's for you.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2014


    Excellent story line! Easy read and surprise finish!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2014


    Kept building suspense throughout. Read this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2014



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  • Posted March 9, 2012

    Exciting read.

    Fast paced, well- written political thriller. Thinly disguised characters makes it even more wicked!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 6, 2010

    Some loose plot threats at the end.

    The premis of the book was good and believeable in today's political climate. There were facts that did not hang together at the end of the book though. The character development was weak. There were some powerful characters who could have been more effectively fleshed out.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2010

    A Terrific Story

    This is a highly enjoyable book that enables readers to simultaneously chuckle at the tongue-in-cheek claim that it's 'pure fiction', its characters and events not based on any real world people or events, and also an involving thriller that encourages the reader to think about the terrible crimes committed by supposedly free and democratic peoples in response to the crimes committed against them.

    The ending is superb, and the novel's explanation for what otherwise seems totally inexplicable behavior by the UK government during the 'War on Terror' makes more sense than most serious alternatives that have been offered.

    Reviews I've read recently indicate that Polanski has made an excellent movie from this story too, which would be an all too rare and wonderful postscript.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 30, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    exceeds expectations

    Having read mixed reviews about this book, I wasn't expecting a lot. Having read Harris' other works, I gave it a shot. The plot was good and the humor interlaced was great. The ending was top notch! This book is something of a departure for him, and I think his finest work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2008

    Below Par

    I have read a number of the author's previous books and enjoyed them immensily. Although 'Ghost' it is seasoned with some delightfully pithy vignettes and vivid alliterations, the story plods forth and degenerates in to a super-duper conspiracy genre. I waited for it improve, but it really never did.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2008

    less than thrilling

    I had high hopes for this-the blurb sounded like it would be great. But I read over half of the book, hoping that the next page things would pick up, but the real interest and action doesn't start till about 3/4 through. This was a good idea, just poorly thought out.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 81 Customer Reviews

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