Haunting Debut

A refreshingly amoral anti-hero

Written by Shantanu David | Published:April 6, 2013 1:15 am

Book: Ghostman

Author: Roger Hobbs

Publisher: Doubleday

Price: $ 9.99

Pages: 321

I loved Roger Hobbs’ Ghostman,until I read the blurb at the end. The debut novelist,a fresh graduate of Reed College,is merely 24 years old,a fact that severely dampened my literary pretensions and ardour. Professional envy aside though,Hobbs delivers a masterful crime story,all the more impressive because it is a debut.

Ghostman follows an unnamed protagonist,identified by his trade rather than any given name,and his settling of an old debt. The Ghostman is a professional criminal who helps his morally bankrupt brethren escape the law by manufacturing false identities,personae even,for them along with being untraceable himself (one of the first rites of passage for Ghostmen,we learn,is the burning off of fingerprints to avoid identification). A master of disguise,deadly with weapons and an expert in criminal trades,ghostman gets an unexpected e-mail from a former associate,one Marcus Hayes,current druglord and former “jugmarker” (criminalspeak for the planner of a heist),reminding him of a debt owed. Five years previously,Ghostman,under the alias of Jack Delton,botched up a heist,leaving his team either dead or imprisoned,and Marcus relegated to the world of drug-dealing. Now,Marcus’s latest heist has gone awry,and he calls on Ghostman to return the heist’s prize,a bag stuffed with millions from a casino. Within 72 hours.

Written in first-person,Jack’s narrative style makes the novel arresting (pun unintended). Though most crime story protagonists are ambiguous in their nature,with shades of both black and white,Hobbs anti-hero is refreshingly amoral. For instance,mercy as a concept is alien to him,as he regards any enemy he hasn’t killed as a threat. Another factor that makes the book a page-turner,is the speed with which events unfold. The book is also steeped in criminal tradecraft,giving wannabe career criminals like me invaluable tips on the lethal properties of nutmeg and spray paint and how to steal evidence from a crime scene. The only downside is Jack’s extremely fragmented background. Hopefully he’ll be further developed in future novels. We can’t wait.

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