“There are maybe thirty people on earth who know I exist, and I am not sure if all of them believe I’m still alive.”
Ghostman (for we never learn his real name) is a bank robber by trade. His particular speciality is becoming invisible by adopting different characters and personas. In fact, he is so invisible that no one really knows who he is. Once the job is done, he vanishes, leaving no traces. No one knows his name, where he lives or even what he really looks like. For much of Ghostman he is known as Jack so we’ll stick with that for now.
The story begins with an Atlantic City casino robbery gone wrong and the robbers either dead or seriously wounded. The brains behind the robbery (known as the “jugmaker”) is a man to whom Jack owes a favour and so he is despatched to find out what went wrong and to clean things up so the robbery can’t be traced back to its planner. But, arriving in Atlantic City, he immediately finds himself watched by the FBI and caught between two crime lords, one of whom is chillingly ruthless.
I’m not going to say any more than that about the plot as I don’t want to risk spoiling it for those of you who are going to read it, which should be any of you who enjoy heist thrillers.
Hobbs has come up with a nice twist in having a “bad guy” as his hero. Jack is a career criminal who is perfectly capable of wounding and killing if necessary. Although he won’t kill unless he has to, he is not some kind of rough diamond or criminal with a heart of gold. He’s cold and amoral - it’s just that his enemies are much worse. One of the reasons this is such a good book is that despite all this, we end up rooting for Jack to win through.
Although there’s plenty of high quality action - car chases, shootouts and the like, all of which are well-paced and judged, the real pleasure is the attention given to the mechanics and tradecraft that Jack employs as a ghostman, both in Atlantic City and in his backstory, which is told in flashback and is cleverly split up through the narrative.
As I mentioned above, Hobbs is a 24 year old college graduate and this makes the believability of the novel even more remarkable. The level of detail and apparent background knowledge would lead one to believe that Hobbs had done some pretty in depth research. Whether he has or not, I totally bought into it.
For those of you who are interested in that kind of thing, the film rights have already been acquired by Warner Bros for almost a million dollars and I can see why - this will make a storming film provided they cast Jack right (i.e. NOT Tom Cruise, for the love of God!)
I haven’t felt so enthusiastic about a thriller in ages - this is absolutely first class and if you read thrillers and don’t buy this, you will really be missing out. Hard-hitting, clever and wildly original, I think we will hear a lot more from Roger Hobbs in the future.