With The Ghost Writer, his intricate and engrossing first novel, John Harwood raises the ghost of the Victorian ghost story, goosing the action with a modern spin. Gerard Freeman, growing up in Australia with his secretive British-born mother, stumbles across a puzzling photograph and later an eerie short story written by his great-grandmother. Given Mom's violent response to his first discovery -- ''Tufts of hair stuck out from her head; the whites of her eyes seemed to be spilling out of their sockets'' -- Gerard senses that herein lies a clue to her mysterious past. Meanwhile, he acquires a seductive British pen pal named Alice who, over the years, is strangely unavailable whenever Gerard visits England. Add to that a creaky old house, a long-ago love triangle, and some antique radiation instruments, and you've got one ghoulishly absorbing read.