Friday, May 09, 2008

The Ghost

Robert Harris has written a political thriller that never quite managed to “thrill” me.

The title of the book refers to its unnamed main character, a ghostwriter who has made a pretty good living writing “memoirs” for celebrities and sports figures that are incapable of writing their own books. Despite all of his experience in the field, however, our Ghost has never tried his hand at writing a political memoir until lured to do so by the big money he is offered to complete a manuscript for a former British prime minister.

The Ghost knows that the author of the manuscript he is replacing drowned near Martha’s Vineyard, a death that some attribute to suicide and others to drink, but which is not officially marked as a questionable one. It does bother him a bit that he is ghosting for a “ghost,” but it is not until he finds a stack of pictures, one of which has a phone number scribbled on the back of it, that he begins to suspect that Prime Minister Adam Lange is not the man he appears to be and that some very powerful people in Britain and America are desperate to hide that fact.

Our Ghost wonders for a time if he is being paranoid about the potential personal dangers involved with the project but, as he gets farther and farther into his research, finds that paranoia could be the least of his problems.

Harris has basically written an anti-Tony Blair novel with The Ghost although some of the plot elements are so farfetched that it is easy to forget the similarities between Blaire and Adam Lange. One gets the feeling that Harris is making some legitimate political points in the novel but that they are a bit obscured by the envelope in which they are delivered. The Ghost would have been more effective with a few less of the “Mission Impossible” elements to distract from its political message. The impact of the novel is also lessened to some extent because Adam Lange and the Ghost are surrounded by several stereotypically clich├ęd characters, an element that made it difficult for the novel to build to the level of tenseness that it deserved.

Readers should be warned not to read the last pages of the book before they work their way there naturally because Harris has saved a little surprise for them that he throws in at the very end. The audio version of The Ghost was perfect for a week’s worth of my daily commuting but I am not convinced that I would have enjoyed the written version as much as I did the excellently narrated audio book.

Rated at: 3.0

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