First Lines: The Ghost – Robert Harris

The moment I hear how McAra died I should have walked away. I can see that now. I should had 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 be the writer and I the literary agent – that once he’d started talking there was never any question I wouldn’t listen, and by the time he had finished, I was hooked.

And so are we.

Robert Harris’ political thriller, The Ghost, was truly a story of its time. The tale of a ghostwriter uncovering the secrets of a former prime minister, resonated well with the British public as news of Tony Blair the Iraq conspiracy hit the headlines. Written and released within months of Blair’s resignation, the story tapped into many of the conspiracy theories that were floating around at the time and, for that reason alone, guaranteed that it would be read by a wide audience…

But it is the opening lines that really launch this story.

In the first instance, we are hit with a horrible revelation. Macro – whoever he is – is dead. We don’t know who he is or what he does, whether he has a link to our main character or not – all we know is that he’s dead and, by virtue of being mentioned in the very first line, we know it has something to do with the rest of the plot.

From the very first sentence, we are set up to expect a thriller where murder is on the cards.

More than that though, we also learn something about our main character in these first words. ‘I should have walked away’ – our main character can sense the danger he is in from the very first line and yet curiosity keeps him from walking away. It doesn’t surprise the reader later on that the whole story is driven by the investigative instincts of this character (who incidentally is never named) and the reason why the reader accepts it so readily is because the detail is there right in the opening line.

As an introduction to the themes of the book, the opening passage does it quite well (and subtly).


The entire story of The Ghost revolves around the main character attempting to pick apart the various stories that the main characters have. All of them – whether it is the Prime Minister or his PA or his wife – tell tales throughout the novel, masking the truth behind a veneer of good storytelling. Even the main character himself spends the vast majority of the first part of the novel attempting to do precisely the same thing – weaving a convincing story about the Prime Minister’s life that would entertain readers whilst forwarding the politician’s agenda…

And that theme is right here in the opening paragraph.

Sure, there is no mention of politics at this stage, no talk of corruption or double dealings – even the death of McAra is explained so briefly that the reader is unsure of whether it was an accident or murder. But the unnamed ghost writer’s musings on how good a storyteller Rick is – how he manages to weave a convincing tale in order to get him interested – is not unlike the actions of the characters in the rest of the story. Right from the beginning, Harris sets the precedent – anyone will tell a story to get what they want. And that idea follows through the whole novel right up to the final pages.

In little more than a few sentences, Harris has us hooked – and the rest of the book is just as intriguing…

Now it’s your turn.

What does this opening do for you? Does Harris get you hooked or do you still need a bit more convincing? Is the introduction of the themes of this book too subtle for your liking? Have you read The Ghost? Did you enjoy it?

As always, if you like what you’ve read (and I would hope if you’ve read this far that you did), press that like button at the bottom of the post. Or, if you’re not a blogger, share it on Facebook, Twitter and whatever else you can think of.

Don’t agree with me? Didn’t like the post? Leave a comment down below and let me know why. Anyone can comment so don’t be shy.

And if you have a suggestion for a future First Lines book? Leave your suggestion below.

Keep on reading.


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