Reviews for Ghostman
Booklist Reviews 2013 February #1
*Starred Review* A first novel comes along every few years that clearly separates itself from the field, like Secretariat winning the 1973 Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. This year's Secretariat is going to be Ghostman, a propulsive thriller that combines incredible detail and nonstoppable narrative drive. Jack White is the Ghostman, a pseudonymous loner living far off the grid who specializes in disappearing. After a high-level heist, he makes sure that all traces of the caper vanish. Only once, in Kuala Lumpur, did it all go bad. The organizer of that job, a master criminal named Marcus, blames Jack for the fiasco, so when Marcus penetrates Jack's deep cover, it clearly means trouble. But Marcus doesn't want to kill the Ghostman, at least not yet. What Marcus wants is for Jack to even the score by making a botched armored-car robbery in Atlantic City disappear--except, of course, for the take, which has itself disappeared but needs to be found. The clock is ticking because if the $1.2 million in freshly minted bills isn't recovered quickly, it will explode. Naturally, there are multiple levels of double- and triple-crosses layered within the premise, and Hobbs tantalizingly reveals them--always keeping his hole cards thoroughly vested as he tracks Jack's progress. The suspense builds inexorably, heightened rather than impeded by the supportive detail with which Hobbs undergirds the action (the backstory on those exploding bills, for example, will have readers wondering how a twentysomething author could possibly know what he knows). There's also a jaunty, cat-and-mouse subplot involving Jack and a female FBI agent who may be more interested in Jack than the crime. Comparisons to Lee Child are inevitable here, and surely Hobbs possesses a Child-like ability for first unleashing and then shrewdly directing a tornado of a plot, but he also evokes Elmore Leonard in the subtle interplay of his characters. A triumph on every level. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Knopf knows it has a winner here and is backing Hobbs' debut with the kind of marketing support rarely granted a first novel. Movie rights have been sold to Warner Brothers, and options have been signed by 13 publishers across the globe. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.
BookPage Reviews 2013 February
A young crime writer's riveting debut
Roger Hobbs knows that his parents and sister are proud of him. He’s just not completely certain they’ll read his edge-of-the-seat detective thriller Ghostman, published this month with much fanfare—and a movie deal—less than two years after he graduated from college.
“It’s not their kind of book,” says the 24-year-old Hobbs, who has the face of a cherub and enunciates his words with precision. “It’s got far too much graphic violence for them.” His mother, he says, acknowledging the irony, is a professor of communications who has spent much of her career studying how media violence affects children.
In middle school, while he and his family were in Italy, Hobbs encountered The Da Vinci Code. It was his first experience reading a thriller. He remembers thinking, “I could do something like this.”
He began writing each and every day—science fiction at first—on his 12th birthday, when he was given a computer and word-processing software.
“But I didn’t really stumble upon my genre until I was in an independent bookstore and came across a copy of The Monkey’s Raincoat by Robert Crais, which grabbed me and thrilled me. It was an old-school detective novel, with a classic detective voice, an incredibly engaging, incredibly addictive voice, a character that just spoke to me. Literally. And I thought, I want to create characters that speak to people, where the voice drives the narrative.”
So Hobbs became a student of the genre. Literally. For his year-long senior thesis project at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, he examined the ideas of two French literary theorists. But “even though the paper was about these very high academic concepts, I used as an example the mystery novel. I wanted to explore from a theoretical level what it is that creates suspense.”
The enigmatic hero of Hobbs' thriller has a distinctive voice, a passion for translating Latin and no fixed identity.
About a year before that—between his sophomore and junior years—Hobbs determined to write a heist novel, the story that would eventually become Ghostman. To prepare, he “read maybe 100 crime novels and watched maybe 100 heist movies, and I wrote down every scene on an index card so I could see in front of me on my wall what a heist novel looks like at its base level.” Ninety-nine percent perspiration combined with one percent inspiration when sometime later Hobbs envisioned “a medium-built man in a pale suit driving a Chrysler 300 really, really fast at night, talking on a cell phone. When he’s done with the conversation he takes the cell phone, crushes it, and throws it out the window.”
Out of that primal image—and the coolly deliberate research behind it—both the Ghostman character and Ghostman the thriller were born. Knopf made a pre-emptive offer for the book, with noted editor Gary Fisketjon (who has edited the work of Cormac McCarthy, Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff, among many others) handling the project. Foreign rights have been sold in 16 countries, and Warner Bros. has acquired film rights.
Hobbs’ thriller has more twists and turns than a 10-yard-long corkscrew. It opens with an early-morning attack on an armored car delivering money to an Atlantic City casino. Things go terribly wrong when the carefully planned heist turns into a scene of epic carnage. What happened and why? Most importantly, where is the bundle of money with an explosive timer buried inside set to go off in 48 hours? In Seattle, Marcus, the organizer of the heist, wants some answers and, of course, his money. He turns to a guy who made a mistake on a job in Kuala Lumpur and owes him something in return for that fatal error.
Enter the Ghostman, sometimes called Jack, a character with a distinctive voice, a passion for translating Latin in his spare time and no fixed or permanent identity: the antihero as detective.
“Ghostman is what the mystery novel would look like if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had decided that Moriarty was his central character,” Hobbs says, then adds: “The central conceit of the Ghostman is the psychological, spiritual and emotional fallout of having no identity. I know for me, societal feedback is absolutely necessary for shaping my sense of identity. But here’s a man with no identity. What does he think about himself? What does he know about himself?”
These are questions that percolate well beneath the hard-edged surface of Ghostman. What will rivet and impress a reader is the level of credible procedural detail in Hobbs’ inaugural outing. You’ve heard of police procedurals? Ghostman is a crime procedural.
Hobbs grew up in Massachusetts and went to high school near Philadelphia (where he developed the habit of wearing a suit and tie every day because he found it was “a lot harder for an adult not to take me seriously when I dressed like that”). He composed the first draft of the novel over three months between his junior and senior years of college in “an incredibly crowded second-floor coffee shop in Borders in center city Philadelphia.”
He walked the streets of Atlantic City to scout locations. He snuck into an armored car depot near his house in Portland to discover telling details. He conducted research on the “deep web,” the encrypted, unindexed part of the Internet where anonymous drug users “talk about their shared fandom of drugs.” And he occasionally drove up to Seattle and “sat in bars and traded cigarettes for stories about certain methods of criminality. You’d be amazed what people will tell you for a cigarette.”
Hobbs sent his agent the manuscript of Ghostman on the day he graduated from Reed in 2011. He says he is now about midway through writing a second Ghostman novel. “What I want with the Ghostman series is not to write the same book over and over again,” he says. “Instead I want to create a series of books that fit together like puzzle pieces. So I’m creating one mystery, one story, one question that is raised in the first book that I will answer over the course of five more books.”
And with that, Hobbs’ career and his unforgettable character are born. Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2012 November #2
An ice-in-his-veins fixer trawls Atlantic City for a missing bundle of cash in this watertight debut thriller. Jack Delton, the hero of this novel--and, presumably, more to come--is a "ghostman," an expert at disappearing and helping others disappear. He's a free agent with a full armory of skills that help him kill a man, cross borders, take on entirely new personalities and be smugly unimpressed with criminal overlords. But his botch of a big-money bank heist in Kuala Lumpur five years ago means he owes a favor to one of those honchos, Marcus, who's looking for a bag of cash that disappeared with a gunman when a casino robbery went sour. The clock's ticking: The bundle is a "federal payload" containing a packet of indelible ink set to explode in 48 hours. Jack is a superb sleuth and an entertaining explainer of the variety of ways one can torment or kill somebody (a jar of nutmeg can be terrifyingly deadly, it turns out), and Hobbs ensures he's in a heap of trouble fast: Marcus is watching closely, and Jack is also in the cross hairs of an FBI agent and a rival criminal, the Wolf, who's guarded by Aryan Brotherhood thugs. Straight out of the gate, Hobbs has mastered the essentials of a contemporary thriller: a noirlike tone, no-nonsense prose and a hero with just enough personality to ensure he doesn't come off as an amoral death machine. Jack loves Ovid, hates heroin and cripples his pursuers--but not so badly that they won't have a chance to come back in a future installment. The federal payload deadline gives the plot its essential urgency, but Hobbs is even better in the Kuala Lumpur interludes--heart-stopping scenes that illustrate how small mistakes can turn catastrophic. A smart entry into the modern thriller pantheon, at once slick and gritty. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2012 September #1
Only a handful of people know that Jack actually exists, but when he's called in by some bad guys to clean up after a botched Atlantic City casino robbery, he finds himself uncomfortably close to exposure. A few weeks after its purchase, this book caused an uproar at Frankfurt. Rights went to nine countries, and film rights have been sold as well. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Library Journal Reviews Newsletter
A ghostman is a fixer who "disappears" criminals--and all that pesky evidence of their crimes--without trace. Hobbs's remarkable debut features a ghostman so capably disappeared that he doesn't even have a name, though you can call him Jack. He lacks a phone number, an email, even fingerprints. He has no friends, relationships, or family. He can become invisible so that he can use a toy badge to lift evidence from a crime scene. While such a life might take the fun out of bowling night, Jack's tactical senses make him the right man to correct a failed armored-car robbery in Atlantic City. To settle a debt with a former employer, Jack needs to find a missing block of $1.2M in cash before a timed detonator destroys the take. It's a tremendous read in which the driving plot is supplemented with details about assorted life-of-crime nuggets (e.g., why the Mazda MX5 is the best getaway car). Jack juggles his hunt while playing cat-and-mouse with a flirty FBI agent and fending off a local honcho nicknamed "the Wolf." Jack is also haunted by a botched job in which his infatuation, Angela, played a large role. Certainly, some readers (ahem: females) might not like Jack. He's sardonic, even hollow. Still, reminiscent of Richard Stark's (Donald Westlake) Parker stories, this is way too good to be a first novel. Even more impressive is the author is like, 12 (ok, maybe 23 years old) --keep writing, kid! VERDICT An emphatic "yes!" (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Library Journal Express Reviews
In the criminal underworld, there are many specialists needed when pulling a heist. Perhaps the most important is the ghostman, the person responsible for helping perpetrators disappear when the task is done. Unfortunately for the protagonist of this debut thriller, sometimes it's impossible to disappear completely. Several years removed from botching a job in Kuala Lumpur, "Jack" (as he sometimes allows himself to be called) finds himself pressed into service cleaning up a casino robbery in Atlantic City. In less than 48 hours, he has to make the robbery vanish while staying one step ahead of the FBI and a rival crime boss. Verdict The novel is frenetic yet methodical, a police procedural told from the wrong side of the law. With its unpredictable plot and an antihero readers will take a perverse joy in cheering for, this book will attract fans of Lee Child, George Pelecanos, or classic hard-boiled fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 8/9/12.]--Peter Petruski, Cumberland Cty. Lib. Syst., Carlisle, PA (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 December #2
Hobbs's strong debut bypasses a potentially over-familiar premise, a lone-wolf crook trying to outwit the underworld's higher powers through sheer verve. Five years after a failed heist in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the protagonist, identified only by the alias "Jack Delton," is leading an anonymous existence, but not enough of one to prevent his former boss, the Moriarty-like Marcus Hayes, from summoning him at a moment's notice. Marcus's latest heist, of an armored car delivering .2 million to an Atlantic City casino, has gone badly, bloodily wrong, with one henchman dead and the other in hiding with the loot. Jack must find the survivor in the next 48 hours before an ink bomb hidden in the cash goes off, while also dealing with FBI agent Rebecca Blacker and local kingpin Harrihar "the Wolf" Turner. Though occasionally overloaded with information about criminal procedure, Hobbs's supremely confident storytelling should leave readers eagerly anticipating his antihero's future felonies. 150,000 first printing; 5-city author tour. Agent: Nat Sobel, Sobel Weber. (Feb.) [Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC