Review: Ghostman

Roger Hobbs is a 2011 graduate of Reed College, where he wrote a lot and studied film. Something must have clicked for him, because his debut novel, Ghostman, a superbly written dark crime thriller, takes the reader at breakneck speed deep into the intricate world of criminals and their crimes. It's narrated by the smart, stoic Jack Delton, aka Ghostman, a fixer as meticulous and resourceful as Jason Bourne, who translates ancient texts in his down time. (His code comes from The Aeneid: "If you can't reach heaven, raise hell.") With a story told in short, James Patterson-like chapters  of addictive prose that fire off like casings ejecting from an automatic weapon, it's as good a first noir as Nic Pizzolatto's Galveston.

An armored car heist at an Atlantic City casino involving lots of federal money goes wrong. Enter Ghostman, who can't change his smell, but can change his look, talk, walk (think Verbal in The Usual Suspects). The very brutal Marcus, the über-criminal mastermind who planned it all, asks Ghostman--who owes Marcus after a botched heist in Kuala Lumpur five years earlier--to retrieve the money taken by one of the fleeing robbers. This has to happen fast: The money is tagged with the "kiss of death," an ink bomb that will go off in 48 hours, destroying the money. As the clock ticks down, Hobbs inserts suspenseful flashbacks to that old job, where Ghostman was mentored by Angela, who taught him to cut off his "last ties with the normal world and how to live like a ghost." Hobbs juxtaposes these two tales well, telling his story in a pitch perfect tone that Chandler would have enjoyed: "This non-neighborhood resembled a crack addict's mouth; row-houses stood out like crooked teeth with huge gaps between them."

After checking out the site, Ghostman concludes that there was a third person, a shooter, firing from a parking lot at the robbers below. Was this all a set-up, a double cross? Is he now in the cross-hairs? Is Marcus after him? Getting in Ghostman's way is Wolf, a sadistic killer, and a relentless FBI agent. Smart, gripping, shrewdly observed, and oh so well written, this is a sharp, standout piece of fiction. --Tom Lavoie

Shelf Talker: An entertaining noir crime thriller as sharp as bloody tacks, edgy, keen in intellect and trenchantly written--one heck of a debut novel.

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