The Ghost

The Ghost Book Cover

The Ghost

Robert Harris

Ex-prime ministers




Britain's former prime minister is holed up in a remote, ocean-front house in America, struggling to finish his memoirs, when his long-term assistant drowns. A professional ghostwriter is sent out to rescue the project a man more used to working with small time celebrities.

From Wikipedia, because I am lazy...

Most of the action takes place on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, where Lang has been holed up in the holiday home of his billionaire American publisher to turn out his memoirs on a deadline. Other scenes are set in Notting Hill, New York and Whitehall.

Lang's former aide Mike McAra has been struggling to ghost his master's memoirs but, as the novel opens, McAra drowns when he apparently falls off the Woods Hole ferry. The fictional narrator of The Ghost, whose name is never revealed, is hired to replace him. His girlfriend walks out on him over his willingness to take the job: "She felt personally betrayed by him; she used to be a party member". He soon suspects foul play and stumbles across evidence of possible motive, buried in Lang's Cambridge past. Having located what may be the lethal secret, the replacement ghostwriter begins to fear for his own safety.

Meanwhile Lang, like his real-life counterpart, has been accused by his enemies of war crimes. A leaked memorandum has revealed that he secretly approved the capture and extraordinary rendition of UK citizens to Guantanamo Bay to face interrogation and torture. One Richard Rycart, Lang's disillusioned and renegade former foreign secretary (loosely based on Robin Cook), who before and during his early days in office made much of his wish to adopt an "ethical" foreign policy, is now at the UN, in a position to do his former boss serious damage. Unlike Blair, Lang thus appears in imminent threat of indictment at the International Criminal Court.

The narrator tussles to reconcile his obligation to complete the ghosting job with its attendant abundant payment on the one hand and, on the other, the pressing need, as he sees it, to reveal Lang's true allegiances. The action really heats up when he contacts Rycart. The narrator comes under increasing jeopardy: romantically and politically, as well as physically.

I wonder how Robert Harris got away with this. It seems to cut to the bone and it is clear that he has some inside knowledge of the workings of the political system in Britain.

Conspiracy theories are one thing. Grand International conspiracies with one Government manipulating another major power is another thing again. Then add the thinly veiled likenesses to current politicians and it is more than a little concerning. You almost wonder if the accusations are not challenged then they might be true.

Regardless, the book is a compelling read. It seems to me that Robert Harris has taken his method of historical fiction writing and applied it to contemporary political life.