Saturday, March 2, 2013

Book Review: "Ghostman" by Roger Hobbs

"I am physically average in every respect. I suppose that's my talent and always has been. It's the one thing I've ever been good at...I have never been fingerprinted. I have never been arrested or detained. I don't have a real Social Security number, driver's license, or passport. My bank account is a ten-digit number with no name on it in some computer in the South Pacific, which I'll never visit. I'd burned the only copy of my high school records right after I graduated."

So says the narrator of Roger Hobbs' great new novel, Ghostman, a person who is sometimes named Jack. "Jack" is a ghostman in criminal parlance, a person who can assume nearly any identity flawlessly, blend in with whatever crowds necessary, do what must be done, and change his appearance again. He's been involved in the world of heists and scores for a while now, and no one knows his real name or what he looks like. In fact, no one knows how to reach him directly—a person trying to contact him has their email bounced from server to server all over the world before he receives the message.

With all of that subterfuge, it's more than a surprise when he hears from the man who masterminded the only heist he was involved in that went horribly wrong—and it was Jack's fault. This time, his old contact is looking for Jack to square his debt. Two men held up an armored truck in the midst of delivering a Federal Reserve payload to an Atlantic City casino. It was supposed to be a foolproof plan, yet once the smoke cleared, one of the robbers is dead, and the other is in the wind, with $1.2 million in stolen money in tow. And there's one other tiny problem—because this cash came from the Federal Reserve, it's going to blow up in less than 48 hours unless it's returned to the authorities.

Jack finds himself en route to Atlantic City from Seattle in a million dollar private plane, and from the moment he lands, he has one task—find the money before it literally explodes, causing trouble for the man who masterminded the robbery. But Jack has a mind of his own, and his independent streak takes him to the heart of a war between two dangerous and powerful men, and somehow there's a dogged FBI agent on his trail, even though he really has no way of leaving a trail. It's a tense, action-packed two days ahead, and Jack must keep his wits and his skills about him at all times.

Ghostman follows Jack's hunt for the money and the missing perpetrator, and his efforts to outsmart and outlast everyone. His motives are much simpler than anyone would expect, which makes him a loose cannon. And as the story unfolds, it is interspersed with Jack's reflecting on the one heist that went wrong, which has put him in the middle of the fray in Atlantic City.

I really enjoyed this book and think Jack is a tremendously intriguing character who reminds me a little bit of Lee Child's Jack Reacher (although a slightly more cerebral version). The opening scenes—and a number of the battles he has in the book—read like a movie, like they're unfolding in front of your eyes. Even though some of the characters may be a little stereotypical—the dogged yet beautiful FBI agent, the thugs with neo-Nazi and prison tattoos—it didn't damper my enjoyment of the book and my desire to see just exactly how Hobbs would tie everything up.

If you're a fan of crime novels, definitely pick this one up. You'll find yourself hooked pretty quickly, and all you'll wish for is enough free time to read it from start to finish.

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