Harlot's Ghost

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First edition (publ. Random House)

Harlot's Ghost (1991), a fictional chronicle of the Central Intelligence Agency by Norman Mailer. The characters are a mixture of real people and fictional figures.


At first it appears to be the autobiography of Harry Hubbard, which is made up of anecdotes of his life and actions with the CIA, the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution, the Mafia in the 60's and the assassination of JFK. The very beginning of the book starts with Harry being told by a friend that his mentor Hugh Montague (a top level CIA officer) has either been assassinated or committed suicide on his boat. He then is told by his wife, Kittredge (a CIA member), that she has been unfaithful and is in love with another high level CIA intelligence officer. Under perceived threat of his own assassination by the CIA he escapes to Moscow. It is there that he rereads in a hotel room the dense manuscript of his life at the CIA which he has documented and kept secret over his career. At that point, the book really begins. It details the life of a CIA intelligence officer who has connections to the highest levels of the CIA. It raises basic questions about the fight against Communism and goes into the Cuban Revolution and the Cuban Missile Crisis and perhaps most importantly raises questions about the assassination of JFK and who was ultimately responsible. Though there was no sequel, the book ends with the words "To be continued."


Although the novel was unfavorably received by most critics (e.g., Louis Menand, John Simon), a distinguished minority (e.g., Christopher Hitchens, Anthony Burgess, Wilfrid Sheed, Robert Anton Wilson[1] Salman Rushdie, Michael Silverblatt, Martin Amis and John W. Aldridge), considered it among Mailer's finest fictions, if not, as in the case of Hitchens, his masterwork.[2]