With a clear conscience, we can all enjoy crime novels in which the protagonist is a police detective (however damaged). But – if the truth be told — a guilty pleasure many crime readers enjoy are books like Roger Hobbs’ crackling Ghostman, where the central characters are unrepentant criminals with whom we are forced to identify, however unimpeachable our own moral standards.
The ‘Ghostman’ of the title is a man who can find people and tidy things up — in Hobbs’ book, he is the enigmatic ‘Jack’ (which is not his real name), seemingly free of conscience in all he does. A robbery in a casino in Atlantic City ends in chaos (the theft itself is described with a panache all too rare in the genre), and one man survives the debacle, managing to escape with over a million dollars. Marcus, the man behind the operation, find himself forced to call on the services of the eponymous ‘ghostman’, whose identity — and even existence — is a subject of mystery.
Jack, an old friend of Marcus’s, is a top professional, supremely skilful at what he does: which is to track down the man with the money (Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is a clear influence here). But things do not go smoothly on this occasion, Jack finds himself in the spotlight, with the FBI on his trail, together with individuals as shadowy as himself — criminals who are to prove far more ruthless than the forces of the law.
All of this is delivered with terrific energy, and a particular pleasure lies in the salty, idiomatic dialogue, often strongly reminiscent of the American master Elmore Leonard (but there are few crime authors writing about squabbling crooks and heists who can escape his long shadow). And such is the strong visual sense here, it’s no surprise to hear that the novel has already been optioned for the cinema (with Roger Hobbs himself – an amazingly youthful 24 – working on the screenplay). However, the film is unlikely to be as good as the book.
So why do so many of us eagerly devour novels such as this? Is it because there is a risky vicarious charge in enjoying things in books we’d never dream of doing in our own ordinary, law-abiding lives? If you’re ready to take a trip into such dark territory, here’s the book that will take you there — in pulse-racing style.
By Roger Hobbs
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