This is a generational saga more than anything else, the story of Harry Hubbard and his relationship with his CIA mentor, the titular Harlot. It is, I think, a brilliant mess of a novel, not unlike the projects the Central Intelligence Agency has taken on covertly, unheard of and unspoken, in order to preserve the good graces and virtue of the United States. The main message, I think, is that one cannot fight evil unless they understand exactly what evil is and are willing to be evil , unprincipled, lacking in romanticized notions of goodness and fairness in order to combat any and all threats that approach our shores. It is messy work, in other words, and there is a liturgy here, something approaching a theological world view that places the agency and its agents in a context that represents an over specialized class of professional attempting to rationalize the vileness of their work by allusively equating their violence, lies and disruptions as serving the greater good.What especially intrigues about this novel is the foul premise that one cannot effectively fight evil unless they are able to become evil themselves, which is to say that the agents in play, visiting various bits of expensive and furtive skulduggery against enemies present and invisible, have to pay grave lip service to the virtues of American freedoms and the governing institutions that direct them, but who must be able to betray every moral principle they've sworn to uphold as a means of defending against the godless, the unbathed, the fearfully "other". Rather than have agents who are compartmentalized to the extent that they lie, cheat, steal and dispatch bad guys by day and watch TV and crosswords at night, we have instead characters who are at war with the lies they tell themselves.Within this is a paranoia that is made into a layered, convoluted, brooding world. Not a perfect novel, but a genuine work of literature none the less. I would venture that this is Mailer's best novel.