Clever political thriller is a page-turner

2008-01-23 00:00

IT has been suggested by more than one reviewer that The Ghost is Robert Harris’s way of having a thinly disguised dig at Tony Blair and his support of Washington in the “war on terror”.

Harris, a former political editor in the UK, was a great admirer of Blair in the early stages of his political career. Disillusionment set in over the UK’s military involvement in Iraq and this was followed by a falling out over the dismissal of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Mandelson from the Blair cabinet.

Regardless of the motive behind the book, The Ghost is a great political thriller. There’s plenty of intrigue and pace, and a clever plot — and it is quite possibly the first time that a car’s programmable navigation system has played a pivotal role in a novel’s dénouement.

The “ghost” of title is a cynical, mercenary ghostwriter who jumps at the chance to polish up the half-written. somewhat leaden memoirs of a former British prime minister, Adam Lang, who has retreated from his hostile home country to a mansion on Martha’s Vineyard in the United States. The memoirs are incomplete, with a publisher’s deadline looming, because the aide who had been writing them drowned after apparently getting drunk and falling off a ferry.

The ghostwriter — the unnamed first-person narrator of the tale — soon realises that the circumstances of his predecessor’s death are decidedly suspicious. His investigations uncover some sinister secrets in Lang’s past that lead him to fear for his own safety.

And in the meantime the former prime minister is charged with war crimes, including being complicit in the “extraordinary rendition” of terror suspects and a form of interrogation known as water boarding.

I found it very easy to forget the Blair subtext and to be drawn into a clever page-turning thriller that also just happens to deal with some thorny political issues.

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