Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Spirited Thriller

THE GHOST Robert Harris

Alternative history scenarios have been at the heart of many of Robert Harris’ intelligent thrillers, from Fatherland to Enigma. Taking a break from his proposed trilogy of books on ancient Rome – of which I thoroughly enjoyed Imperium – he now delivers The Ghost, a book clearly inspired by the author’s falling out with Tony Blair over Britain’s support for the Iraq war.

This isn’t a conventional ghost story, as the title may lead you to believe: it concerns itself with the predicament of an unnamed ghostwriter called upon to collaborate on the memoirs of Adam Lang, former British Prime Minister. The earlier ghostwriter, the former Press Secretary, was found drowned in mysterious circumstances. The writer travels from London to Martha’s Vineyard to meet the former PM and some other members of his entourage, including his wife and personal assistant.

As it happens, Lang is accused of aiding and abetting the capture and torture of suspected terrorists in Pakistan, an imbroglio that the narrator gets sucked into; further, in attempting to unearth ghosts from Lang’s past, he stumbles upon puzzling inconsistencies that may just be the clichĂ©d tip of a political iceberg.

The voice is just right: acerbic and world-weary, but not above being shaken by the occasional revelation. Though the first part of the book is clearly more robust, it’s well-paced, with deft twists and foreshadowing, including a sting in the tail that one really ought to have seen coming, but didn’t. Ah, there’s nothing like a good thriller.

Worth your while? Yes: make sure you don’t have to awaken early, for it may well keep you up till the wee hours.

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