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30 May 2015

Roger Hobbs: Ghostman

Great debut crime thriller
I read a lot of crime thrillers and once in a while something new and remarkable comes along. This book meets and exceeds that grade. It has already gone into my list of best reads of 2015.

Ghostman doesn't exist. He has no fingerprints, social security number, college record, official driving licence or passport. But Ghostman is an accomplished bank robber who is at the top of his game, and known by the top operators in his field. Ghostman is average height, average looking and vanishes into the background. He has a collection of identities and can change his appearance at the drop of a hat. This time he is Jack Delton:

"My name isn't really Jack. My name isn't John, George, Michael or Steven. It isn't on my driver's licences, and it isn't on my passports of credit cards. My real name isn't anywhere..." Jack has been between jobs for some time when he gets a call from Marcus Hayes ("he was the most brutal man I had ever known").

Marcus was "jugmaker" (a person who plans a heist). His latest heist has gone badly wrong but one of his gang had got away and disappeared wounded with over a million dollars of cash which was being delivered by the Federal Reserve to an Atlantic City casino. The big problem was that the cash was still part of the "Federal Payload" and was booby trapped to explode in 48 hours. Marcus gives Jack less than 48 hours to get him the missing money. The real problem is that a drug baron "The Wolf" (who if anything is more brutal than Marcus) is after the money as well.

I don't know if the description of the Federal Payload and the security precautions are real, but the details were believable and fascinating. I don't know if the descriptions of other things relating to bank robberies were real but they were also believable and fascinating. It all made great theatre (and probably the basis for a great movie).

Hobbs introduces us to his underworld of bank robbers. The Jugmaker doesn't get physically involved in the heist. He uses "buttonmen" for violent parts, "boxmen" to crack safes, "wheelmen" to drive getaway cars, and "ghostmen" (professional imposters who nobody knows and will never know) to get all the information needed to plan the operation.

All in all Ghostman is a remarkable and accomplished debut novel written during Hobbs' senior years in college. It has been published in more than 25 countries and climbed many bestseller lists. As a potential movie it has been compared with "Heat" and "Ocean's Eleven".

Hobbs' next novel "Vanishing Games", also featuring the Ghostman, will be released on 7 July 2015. I hope it matches up to the promise of this book.

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