Rarely these days does one come across a really good book that is also really well edited. "The Ghost" is just right: as in a good whodunnit there is almost nothing that is extraneous to the plot, but it is so page-turningly readable that you don't have time to put the pieces together before the last page hits you like a pick-axe. All you can do is sit dumbstruck and admire the writer's skill in taking you on such a ride.
The reviews of "The Ghost" seem to be split down the middle, with some readers sorely disappointed by Harris failing to live up to past efforts and other reviewers ecstatic at one of the best political thrillers in years. I'm firmly in the latter camp. I could hardly put it down, was riveted throughout and found the ending chilling. It's up there with John Le Carre's best, in my opinion.
But what really makes this story a masterpiece is the stylistic perfection that Harris has achieved. I cannot explain further without spoiling the book, so I will just say that this is an intelligent thriller that left me satisfied on several levels, and one of them was an appreciation for a piece of writing that really works. I do wonder if some of the disappointed reviewers didn't quite "get" the book.
I confess to having approached "The Ghost" rather warily. I'd heard that it was a thinly veiled attack on Tony Blair, who seemed a tediously easy target and in danger of becoming out of date. Also, I'd read two of Robert Harris' others (Fatherland and Archangel) and although I enjoyed them, I found the ending a tiny bit lame in both.
But "The Ghost" knocked my fears for six. It's true that the prime minister in this has some rather obvious similarities with Blair, who Harris apparently used to be pretty close to, but the book in no way relies on the Blair parallel for its success. And you certainly don't need to have a particular view of Blair to enjoy the story.
And my prejudice about Harris' ability to finish well was unjustified. This ties up the loose ends with a flourish and signs off with a touch of genius. It is surely the mark of a really top-notch thriller that you think you can sort of see how it will all fall into place but then the author pulls a rabbit from the hat at the very last moment.