Classic review: The Ghost

In "The Ghost," a prime minister's ghostwriter stumbles across some deadly secrets.

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    The Ghost
    By Robert Harris
    Simon & Schuster
    352 pp., $20
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[This review from the Monitor's archives originally ran on Oct. 19, 2007.] The recipe for The Ghost, Robert Harris's latest thriller, about a recently retired British prime minister and his wife, goes like this: Take a pinch of Bill Clinton, a sprig of Tony Blair, add a dollop of Ronald Reagan, and season heavily with a first lady that melds one part Hillary Clinton with two parts Lady Macbeth.

Stir in a ripped-from-the-headlines narrative and you have Adam and Ruth Lang, formerly of 10 Downing Street.

Mr. Lang has a problem: His $10 million advance for a memoir is threatened by the deadly dull manuscript he produced with his top political aide and ghostwriter. When the ghostwriter's corpse washes up on the shore of Martha's Vineyard, the Langs – along with publishing house execs and a ruthless Beltway lawyer – go in search of a new collaborator.

Eventually they find one who makes a healthy living as a ghostwriter for has-been rockers and retired soccer players. Soon enough, Central Intelligence Agency conspiracies and sinister skullduggery abound, with the unwitting ghostwriter haunted as he is swept into the merciless political machine.

Familiar apparitions – rendition, water-boarding, and corrupt corporate contractors ("Hallington" instead of Halliburton) – arise as the plot kicks into overdrive. Harris once again delivers fine popular fiction in a satisfyingly slim volume that packs a wallop with its dead-on ending.

"The Ghost" has every bit of spirit a reader could want. Grade: A

Erik Spanberg is a freelancer writer in Charlotte, N.C.

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