REVIEW: GHOSTMAN BY ROGER HOBBS

GHOSTMAN
Author: Roger Hobbs
Doubleday RRP $29.95
Review: Monique Mulligan

Ghostman“And like him, I wasn’t a good guy. At least not in the traditional sense” – Jack Delton, Ghostman

The bar was set high for Ghostman: “Oceans Eleven meets Catch Me if You Can meets Lee Child”. That’s a tough call. Would it live up to the hype? That’s the question I asked when I picked up Roger Hobbs’ debut thriller to review. As a Lee Child fan, I had high expectations so I was looking for something special. What I found was a book that hooked me in from the start and kept me on tenterhooks through to the end. The hype was spot on.

Ghostman introduces anti-hero Jack Delton – “you can call me Ghostman”. Like Child’s Jack Reacher, Delton is a hard man to get hold of; he’s a man of no fixed address – email or physical. Only about 30 people believe he is still alive; only one knows his real name. However, unlike Jack Reacher, a former military policeman, Delton is a high-stakes career criminal, who knows how to vanish. His survival depends on the following rules, what he dubs the Big Three: never kill unless you don’t have a choice; don’t trust anyone you don’t absolutely have to; and never make a deal with cops.

Only two people know the name Jack Delton – it’s not even his real name – so when he gets an email asking him to call the sender, Jack knows who it’s from. Marcus Hayes and Jack used to work together – until they had a falling out over a job gone bad. Five years has passed and Jack still owes Marcus. Now that Marcus has found him, it’s payback time. Will Jack pay with his life, or does Marcus need him to make something disappear? It turns out that Marcus has just bankrolled a casino heist gone bad, leaving a parking lot full of bodies and an armed and dangerous crack-head named Jerome Ribbons AWOL with more than a million dollars in cash. Marcus had the money earmarked for a major drug deal, and if he doesn’t deliver, not only is the deal going down the tubes, but the man known as The Wolf is going to come looking for him.

The deal is simple. To square things with Marcus, Jack needs to tie up the loose ends. By that, it means he needs to find Ribbons, get the money and make the delivery. And he has just 48 hours to do it. It’s a tall order, made worse by the funny feeling Jack has that the whole thing is a set-up. As the countdown begins, present events are seamlessly interwoven with the backstory of the earlier heist gone bad, leaving the reader in suspense about both story lines and how they fit.

It feels strange to be onside with a criminal, but somehow that’s what happens as you become more invested in the story. Jack’s moral duality is intriguing: on the one hand, he is a chameleon-like armed robber with little remorse about his career path (he lives this way because he “can’t think of anything more interesting to do”); on the other, he does have a conscience, albeit buried deep. As he says: “There are very few things in the world that trigger that part of me.” So what is it about this ghost-like character that draws the reader in? Jack is the consummate actor – he plays different parts (even changing his appearance) according to the job; the lack of information about Jack as a man could make him insubstantial, yet his charisma and mystery only makes readers want to know him more. I think each reader will form their own conclusions about Jack; but, when faced with two secondary characters possessing ruthlessness far beyond Jack’s, it’s not hard to see why readers would want this anti-hero to outwit them all.

For Lee Child fans, this story is, at first, reminiscent of 61 Hours. In both novels, the protagonist has to achieve something in a set time – a clever page-turning method that keeps readers heavily invested as the clock ticks. You have to know if they make it. However, don’t mistake Ghostman for a copy-cat thriller. It more than holds its own, with its own voice that distinguishes the writer as one to watch.

Tightly plotted, pacy and surprising, with intriguing characterisation, Ghostman is an impressive first novel that caught me off guard just as much as the cleverly-plotted twists and turns. It ticks all the boxes for a great thriller in my book and I stayed up much later than I planned reading it. If this is what Hobbs can write at just 24, my guess is that there’s even better to come. Film rights have already been bought, so expect a big-budget adaptation on the silver screen sometime in the next couple of years – it’ll be interesting to see how that compares to the novel.

Available from good bookstores and Random House Australia. This copy was courtesy of Random House.

Bookish treat: A protein bar – something that you can eat on the run!