New Maine Times Book Review: Ghostman

Posted Monday, January 27, 2014 in Culture

New Maine Times Book Review: Ghostman
GHOSTMAN
By Roger Hobbs.
Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.
321 pages, $24.95.
ISBN 978-0-307-95996-6.
 
Reviewed by William D. Bushnell
 
    Jack is an educated, cosmopolitan man, an erudite world-traveler.  He reads the classics in their original Greek and Latin, and is a gifted translator of those ancient languages.  His world travels, however, have nothing to do with scholarship.  Jack is actually a very successful bank robber with a resume of high-risk, high-profile international heists to his credit.  And he’s never been caught.
 
    Of course, Jack isn’t his real name, but it will do for this story.  GHOSTMAN is Roger Hobbs’s debut novel, a fascinating crime thriller that cleverly reveals the byzantine world of high-stakes robberies, the careful planning and rehearsal, selection of specially qualified professional personnel, the key role that luck plays, and the inevitable double-crosses.
 
    Hobbs lives in Portland, Oregon, and has a solid hit with this crime mystery, a remarkable achievement for a first-time novelist, the beginnings of a well-deserved reputation as an author of note.  This is a complex story of the criminal underworld and the unique roles some people play for both the love of the money and the rush of the heist.  Jack, for example, doesn’t need the money.  He takes on risky jobs nobody else will take because he’s bored and needs the thrill of the heist to feel alive.
 
    Jack is also a chameleon.  He is a master of disguise, dialect, and accent, and can blend in anywhere with perfect anonymity.  His anonymity is what keeps him out of jail, that and his meticulously detailed planning for every robbery.  Additionally, he is skilled at helping people disappear, other bank robbers who want to retire and enjoy their earnings in peace.  Jack’s talents have earned him the title of Ghostman.
 
    Now, however, Jack is in a bind.  There was one job in Malaysia five years ago that didn’t go well, and he was the only one who escaped.  The man who set up that job, Marcus, never forgives failure and he hasn’t forgotten that Jack is the reason the Malaysian robbery was a bust.
 
    As payback Marcus demands that Jack go to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to unscramble a botched casino robbery that ended in a bloody shoot-out and the $1.2 million loot missing.  Marcus had set that robbery up, too, and now he wants Jack to find out what went wrong and recover the money.
 
    What Jack finds is not encouraging.  Marcus’s two robbers hit an armored car right at the casino, but a mysterious sniper hit them as they were trying to get away.  Result:  four men dead, one robber wounded and on the run with the $1.2 million in cash.  Jack also discovers that this wasn’t just another payroll robbery.  This is federal cash, booby-trapped to explode in forty-eight hours.
 
    And it seems that folks were just waiting for Marcus to send somebody to Atlantic City.  The FBI is waiting for Jack and so is the local crime lord, a brutal sadist known as the Wolf.  Jack thinks he is covered, protected by Marcus’s influential contacts, but some people are not what they seem and treachery, torture, and death await him if he is not very careful.
 
    This whole casino heist smells like a set-up from the start, but Jack cannot figure out who is setting up who or why.  How the does the FBI know so much about what’s going on?  Why are low-life gunmen trying to kill Jack at every turn?  Who hired the mysterious sniper – Marcus, the Wolf, or the FBI?  And most importantly, where is the money?
 
    For the reader, Jack is not a nice guy.  He kills people, too, but at least he is a man of character living within a code of survival, and he is the least evil of all the crooks in this story.  So, for that at least we can cheer him on and hope he gets away with his skin intact.  After reading this excellent crime thriller, you will never look at your bank in the same way again.
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