The reader is drawn in from the very
first sentence: "The moment I heard how McAra died,
I should have walked away." It's a good predictor of
the rest of the book, which is to say that it's
entertaining and well written. Yet for a much-hyped
thriller, some of the thrill is missing.
The story, set in the modern age of terrorism, is slow-paced, yet learning along with the narrator piques our interest, and Harris's simple yet engaging prose marked with occasional wry humor keeps things moving along. Still, it's not until the final third of the book that the pace really picks up. There are only a couple of major plot twists, and they're almost predictable for those of us who are paying close attention.
We join the narrator the ghostwriter of Adam Lang's memoirs as he attempts to unravel several mysteries surrounding Lang. Why is his past so murky? Did he really order the torture of four Pakistani men, resulting in a prosecution for war crimes? Why did McAra die, and what's so important about his version of Lang's memoirs? The ghostwriter soon finds himself embroiled in this political intrigue just as new to him as it is for us.
Set mostly in Martha's Vineyard, with the occasional London and New York scenes, Harris' descriptions lend a realistic feel to the book. To wit: "The primary colors of the port were gray and white gray sea, white sky, gray shingle roofs, white clapboard walls, bare white flagpoles, jetties weathered blue-gray and green-gray, on which perched matching gray-and-white gulls. It was as if Martha Stewart had color coordinated the whole place, Man and Nature. Even the sun, now hovering discreetly over Chappaquiddick, had the good taste to shine pale white."
Ironically, the ghostwriter is anonymous; his name is never revealed. Nor is much disclosed about Lang's term as Prime Minister; it's only the repercussions of his actions that seem to matter. Interestingly, in his prior life before becoming a bestselling novelist, Harris was a political commentator with close associations to the Labour Party and Tony Blair. Harris fell out with Blair over the dismissal of one of Blair's right hand men and the invasion of Iraq. Thus, the real mystery emerges: Who is the Ghost in the title? Adam, the ghostwriter, or perhaps the author himself?
This review was originally published in November 2007, and has been updated for the August 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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