The Ghost by Robert Harris

The Ghost

4*

I have enjoyed all of Robert Harris’s books that I’ve read and The Ghost is no exceptionThe ‘ghost’ in this novel is a professional  ghostwriter employed to finish writing the memoirs of recently retired prime minister of Great Britain, Adam Peter Benet Lang. McAra, Lang’s long-term assistant, had nearly completed Lang’s memoir when he was found dead, drowned. He had gone overboard during the ferry crossing to Martha’s Vineyard, where Lang and his wife, Ruth are staying.

The setting of Martha’s Vineyard in winter reflects Lang’s mood, it is out-of-season, closed down, practically empty – as isolated as Lang himself, disconnected from the world of power he once dominated and stuck on this bleak island with his volatile wife and his aide, the beautiful Amelia Bly, who Ruth suspects is having an affair with Lang. The ghostwriter soon discovers that Lang has secrets in his past that are returning to haunt him – secrets with the power to kill. And he suspects that McAra’s death was neither an accident nor a suicide.

This is fiction, but Adam and Ruth, do have similarities to Tony and Cherie Blair. Lang is charming, personable, full of restless energy, with an engaging smile and thick wavy hair. The narrator, an unnamed writer, who Adam calls ‘man’, is a likeable character more used to ghostwriting the memoirs of footballers than politicians, who has just one month to complete Lang’s memoirs. But soon after he arrives this is reduced to two weeks when news breaks that Lang is accused of war crimes. The International Criminal Court in The Hague are investigating the allegations of Richard Rycart, the former British Foreign Secretary, that Lang had ordered the illegal handover of suspects for torture by the CIA.

I liked the details about ghostwriting from the quotes heading each chapter taken from Andrew Crofts handbook, Ghostwriting. But what I liked most about The Ghost is that it is fast- paced, full of tension and written in a straightforward linear narrative – no flashbacks or fly forwards, or multiple narrators. As in his other books  I’ve read it’s written in such a way that I feel as though I’m there with the characters taking part in the action. And his characters are distinct people, easily distinguishable from each other. In so many books I’ve read recently I’ve come across a character and have been unable to place them and have had to backtrack to find out who they are and how they fit into the plot, or the characters have similar sounding names or all begin with the same letter. Not so with The Ghost the characters have depth, the structure is clear, and there is a twist at the end that revealed the menace implied through the whole novel. Harris is a great storyteller.

My copy:

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow; Reprint edition (3 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-009952749
  • Source: I bought the book
  • My rating: 4*

 

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Ghost by Robert Harris

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

I’m currently reading The Ghost by Robert Harris, about a ghostwriter, not a tale of the supernatural.

The Ghost

 

The moment I heard how McAra died I should have walked away. I can see that now. I should have said, ‘Rick, I’m sorry, this isn’t for me, I don’t like the sound of it,’ finished my drink and left. But he was such a good storyteller, Rick – I often thought he should have been the writer and I the literary agent – that once he’s started talking there was never any question I wouldn’t listen, and by the time he had finished, I was hooked.

Blurb:

Britain’s former prime minister is holed up in a remote, ocean-front house in America, struggling to finish his memoirs, when his long-term assistant drowns. A professional ghostwriter is sent out to rescue the project – a man more used to working with fading rock stars and minor celebrities than ex-world leaders. The ghost soon discovers that his distinguished new client has secrets in his past that are returning to haunt him – secrets with the power to kill.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Munich by Robert Harris

Munich

Munich is about  the 1938 Munich Conference and I found it absolutely fascinating  as I know very little about the period beyond the basic facts – PM Neville Chamberlain was trying to maintain the peace in the face of Hitler’s aims to expand German territory (but I was a bit vague about the actual details) and in 1938 came back from the Munich conference with a piece of paper signed by Hitler, proclaiming that it meant ‘peace for our time‘.

MunichAgreement

Munich is a mix of fact and fiction. Harris uses two fictional characters, Hugh Legat as one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries and Paul Hartmann, a German diplomat and a member of the anti-Hitler resistance to tell his story. Harris’ interest in the Munich Agreement began thirty years ago when he made a BBC TV documentary, ‘God Bless You Mr Chamberlain’ to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the conference in 1988. He has thoroughly researched the subject, consulting many books (listed in the Acknowledgements) and has seamlessly woven the facts into the novel. It has a a strong sense of place, based no doubt on his visits to what was once the Führerbau, now the Faculty of Music and Theatre and Hitler’s old apartment in Prinzregentenplatz, now used as a police headquarters.

Munich explores the moral dilemma of appeasement, and of making a stand. It portrays Chamberlain as a man of high moral principals, deeply concerned that the horrors of World War One should not be repeated and not as a weak appeaser easily fooled by Hitler. His objective was:

… to avert war in the short term, and then to try to build a lasting peace for the future – one month, one day at a time, if needs be. The worst act I could possibly commit for the future of mankind would be to walk away from this conference tonight. (page 267)

Reading this book has made me want to know more about Neville Chamberlain and I hope to read one of the biographies that Harris lists.

The fictional story of Hugh and Paul, who had been friends at university six years earlier adds additional tension and drama to the already tense story of the Munich conference. As in his earlier books Harris has captured the atmosphere and mood of the times, making me feel as though I’m there with the characters taking part in the action. The key characters are seen through Hugh’s and Paul’s perspectives – Chamberlain and Hitler – and others such as Mussolini, Goering and the other British politicians who travelled with Chamberlain to Munich.  Among the later was Lord Dunglass, described by one of Chamberlain’s secretaries as ‘one of the cleverest politicians she had ever encountered‘; she considered that he would ‘be Prime Minister one day‘. At the time it was inconceivable that a premier could sit in the House of Lords and her prediction was dismissed. However, Dunglass went on to inherit his father’s title and become the 14th Earl of Home and as Sir Alec-Douglas-Home (renouncing his peerage) he did indeed become Prime Minister.

I really like Harris’ straight forward writing style with no flashbacks, fly forwards or ambiguities. I learned a lot from this book and as far as I can tell (as I said I don’t know much about the period) it is an accurate version of what happened at Munich. It is a dramatic story well told – definitely a 5* book!

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson; 01 edition (21 Sept. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091959195
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091959197
  • Source: Library book
  • My rating: 5*

My Tuesday Post: Munich by Robert Harris

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by The Purple Booker. Post two sentences from somewhere in a book you’re reading. No spoilers, please! List the author and book title too.

My first paragraph this week is from Munich by Robert Harris, which I’m currently reading.

Munich

 

It begins:

Shortly before one o’clock on the afternoon of Tuesday 27 September 1938, Mr Hugh Legat of His Majesty’s Diplomatic Service was shown to his table beside one of the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Ritz restaurant in London, ordered a half-bottle of 1921 Dom Perignon that he could not afford, folded his copy of The Times to page seventeen and began to read for the third time the speech that had been delivered the night before in Berlin’s Sportpalast by Adolf Hitler.

Here is a teaser from page 99. 

The Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain is talking to Legat about the suffering endured through the last war (the First World War):

… Afterwards, whenever I saw a war memorial, or visited one of those vast cemeteries in France where so many dear friends are buried, I always vowed that if ever I was in a position to prevent such a catastrophe from happening again, I would do anything – sacrifice anything – to maintain peace. You understand that?’

Blurb:

September 1938. Hitler is determined to start a war. Chamberlain is desperate to preserve the peace. The issue is to be decided in a city that will forever afterwards be notorious for what takes place there. Munich. 

As Chamberlain’s plane judders over the Channel and the Fürher’s train steams relentlessly south from Berlin, two young men travel with secrets of their own.

Hugh Legat is one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries, Paul Hartmann a German diplomat and member of the anti-Hitler resistance. Great friends at Oxford before Hitler came to power, they haven’t seen one another since they were last in Munich six years earlier. Now their paths are destined to cross again as the future of Europe hangs in the balance.

When the stakes are this high, who are you willing to betray? Your friends, your family, your country or your conscience?

I’ve read just a few pages on from my teaser and am firmly fixed in the pre-war years and hoping, futilely I know, that Chamberlain would succeed in preventing the coming war. I also want to know more about him. As Harris has portrayed him so far in this book he seems a man out of his time – a Victorian figure – and a man who like Hitler was egocentric, a man who ‘always conflated the national interest with himself.‘ (page 37)

A – Z of TBRs: M, N and O

I’m now up to M, N, and O in my A – Z of TBRs, a series of posts in which I take a fresh look at some of my TBRs to inspire me to read more of them by the end of the year, or maybe to decide not to bother reading them after all. These TBRs are all physical books – I’ve not included e-books. Looking at my books like this is encouraging me to read more of my own books as I’ve read two of the books I’ve featured in the earlier posts.

I’m enjoying searching my shelves – finding books I’d forgotten were there (the disadvantage of shelving books behind others).

MNO bks P1020320

– is for Mercy by Jodie Picoulta book I’ve had since 2008. LibraryThing predicts that I probably won’t like this book. Two cousins are driven to extremes by the power of love, as one helps his terminally ill wife commit suicide and the other becomes involved in a passionate affair with his wife’s new assistant.

I bought this book because I’ve read and enjoyed three other books by Jodie Picoult.

According to the sworn voluntary statement of James MacDonald, his wife had been suffering from the advanced stages of cancer and had asked him to kill her. Which did not account for the raw scratches on his face, or the fact that he had traveled to a town he had never set foot in to commit the murder. Maggie had not videotaped her wishes, or even written them down and had them notarized to prove she was of sane mind – Jamie said that she hadn’t wanted it to be a production, but a simple gift.

What it boiled down to, really, was Jamie’s word. Cam’s only witness was dead. He was supposed to believe the confession of James MacDonald solely because he was a MacDonald, a member of his clan. (page 39)

N – is for Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale (on my TBR shelves since 2011). LibraryThing predicts that I probably will like this book. When troubled artist Rachel Kelly dies painting obsessively in her attic studio in Penzance, her saintly husband and adult children have more than the usual mess to clear up. She leaves behind an extraordinary and acclaimed body of work – but she also leaves a legacy of secrets and emotional damage that will take months to unravel.

I haven’t read any of Patrick Gale’s books, but I was attracted to it by the blurb.

‘We are here to say goodbye to our dear Rachel, who was a regular attender since Anthony first brought her to Penzance a little over forty years ago. For those of you who have never been to a Friends’ Meeting before, this may not be the kind of funeral you’re used to. The proceedings take the form of a Quaker Meeting for Worship. This is based on silent contemplation. There are two aims in our worship: to give thanks for the life that has been lived and to help those who mourn to feel a deep and comforting sense of divine presence within us. The silence may be broken by anyone, Quaker or not, who feels moved to speak, to pray or offer up a memory of Rachel.’ (page 62)

O – is for An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris a book I’ve only had for nearly two years. LibraryThing predicts that I probably will like this book. A recreation of a scandal that became the most famous miscarriage of justice in history, this is the story of the infamous Dreyfus affair told as a chillingly dark, hard-edged novel of conspiracy and espionage. Paris in 1895. Alfred Dreyfus, a young Jewish officer, has just been convicted of treason, sentenced to life imprisonment at Devil’s Island, and stripped of his rank in front of a baying crowd of twenty-thousand.

I bought this on the strength of the other books by Robert Harris that I’ve enjoyed. I’ve heard of the Dreyfus affair but know very little about it.

Beneath the letters is a thin manilla envelope containing a large photograph, twenty five centimetres by twenty. I recognise it immediately from Dreyfus’s court martial – a copy of the covering note, the famous bordereau, that accompanied the documents he passed to the Germans. It was the central evidence against him produced in court. Until this morning I had no idea how the Statistical Section had got its hands on it. And no wonder. I have to admire Lauth’s handiwork. Nobody looking at it could tell it had once been ripped into pieces: all the tear marks have been carefully touched out, so that it seems a whole document. (pages 40 -41)

What do you think? Do you fancy any of them? Would you ditch any of them?

The Fear Index by Robert Harris

The Fear Index

The Fear Index by Robert Harris is a fast-paced story set in the world of high finance and computer technology but it didn’t appeal to me as much as the other books by him that I’ve read. It’s about scientist Dr Alex Hoffman, who together with his partner Hugo Quarry, an investment banker, runs a hedge fund based in Geneva, that makes billions. Alex has developed a revolutionary form of artificial intelligence that tracks human emotions, enabling it to predict movements in the financial markets. It’s built around the standard measure of market volatility: the VIX or ‘Fear Index’.

Alex wakes up one morning in the early hours to find an intruder has managed to bypass the elaborate security of the house. He challenges him only to receive a blow to his head that knocks him out and the intruder escapes. That is just the start of his troubles. A brain scan indicates he may have MS or possibly dementia and he is advised to take further advice, which of course, he doesn’t want to do. It appears that someone is out to destroy him and his company and even worse it soon looks as though this will cause a major global economic crisis. He is at a complete loss as to who it can be. It’s someone who has infiltrated into all areas of his life, affecting his marriage as well as his business.  He even begins to doubt his sanity.

On the one hand it helped me understand a bit more about hedge funds and how they operate but I got lost in the computer technology details. The characters are all not particularly likeable, but it’s definitely a page turner with plenty of suspense as the story raced to a conclusion, and it kept me puzzling over what or who was really causing the paranoia and violence. I thought it began well but didn’t find the ending very illuminating or satisfying and was left wondering what it was really all about.

I liked the chapter headings with extracts from books such as Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which made me wonder if the book was about the evolution of man into machine. Just an idea – if you’ve read the book what did you make of it all?

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson; First Edition, First Printing edition (29 Sept. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091936969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091936969
  • Source: Library book
  • My rating: 3*

My Week in Books: 18 October 2017

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

IMG_1384-0

A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: I’m currently reading Days Without End by Sebastian Barry, a book I’ve borrowed from the library. It was awarded the Costa Book Award 2016 and won the 2017 Walter Scott Prize. It was also longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017.

Days Without End

Blurb:

After signing up for the US army in the 1850s, aged barely seventeen, Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, fight in the Indian Wars and the Civil War. Having both fled terrible hardships, their days are now vivid and filled with wonder, despite the horrors they both see and are complicit in. Then when a young Indian girl crosses their path, the possibility of lasting happiness seems within reach, if only they can survive.

I’m enjoying this book, narrated by Thomas McNulty in his own style of speech, grammatically incorrect and in Irish and American slang – surprisingly easy to read.

Then: I’ve recently finished reading The Last Hours by Minette Walters, which will be published on 2 November in hardback and as en e-book. My review will follow soon.

The Last Hours

Blurb:

June, 1348: the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in the county of Dorsetshire. Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county start to die in their thousands.

In the estate of Develish, Lady Anne takes control of her people’s future – including the lives of two hundred bonded serfs. Strong, compassionate and resourceful, Lady Anne chooses a bastard slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, to act as her steward. Together, they decide to quarantine Develish by bringing the serfs inside the walls. With this sudden overturning of the accepted social order, where serfs exist only to serve their lords, conflicts soon arise. Ignorant of what is happening in the world outside, they wrestle with themselves, with God and with the terrible uncertainty of their futures.

Lady Anne’s people fear starvation but they fear the pestilence more. Who amongst them has the courage to leave the security of the walls?

And how safe is anyone in Develish when a dreadful event threatens the uneasy status quo..?

Next: I think I’ll read The Fear Index by Robert Harris. This is another book I’ve borrowed from the library and having dipped into it I’m itching to read it.

The Fear Index

Blurb:

His name is carefully guarded from the general public but within the secretive inner circles of the ultra-rich Dr Alex Hoffmann is a legend – a visionary scientist whose computer software turns everything it touches into gold.

Together with his partner, an investment banker, Hoffmann has developed a revolutionary form of artificial intelligence that tracks human emotions, enabling it to predict movements in the financial markets with uncanny accuracy. His hedge fund, based in Geneva, makes billions.

But then in the early hours of the morning, while he lies asleep with his wife, a sinister intruder breaches the elaborate security of their lakeside house. So begins a waking nightmare of paranoia and violence as Hoffmann attempts, with increasing desperation, to discover who is trying to destroy him.

His quest forces him to confront the deepest questions of what it is to be human. By the time night falls over Geneva, the financial markets will be in turmoil and Hoffmann’s world – and ours – transformed forever.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? And what have you been reading this week?