Sunday, March 31, 2013

Don't let the Ghostman vanish

Book 41: Ghostman by Roger Hobbs

Ghostman is a promising debut thriller from Roger Hobbs.

When a casino heist in Atlantic City goes awry, the crime boss who ordered the robbery calls Jack Delton.  Jack, who is something of a criminal's criminal, is told find the missing money and that favor you owe me goes away.

The favor arises from a botched heist years earlier in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Jack made a mistake and while he escaped, most of the crew didn't. What's worse, the money was left behind.

Now he can square his debts if he can tiptoe a fine and deadly line between two warring crime bosses and the FBI.

Ghostman, a name that Jack awarded himself because of skill at disappearing, is rich with detail.  There is, for example, an impressive passage on federal payload, how the Federal Reserve transport millions in cash. The money is scanned, vacuum packed and bundled into a 60-ton pallet of fresh $100 bills.

That's a tempting payload for any crook.

The catch, according to Jack, is that "the federal payload is essentially an ink bomb placed in all the money that comes out of Washington. Every couple of hundred bills , there's a very thin, almost undetectable, explosive device."

And the device has three parts: a packet of indelible ink, a battery that doubles as an explosive charge and a GPS locator that acts as a trigger. The pallet of money is kept on an electromagnetic plate. Remove the money from the plate and the batteries embedded in the money start to drain. 

"If the batteries run out, the cash blows up. If the cellophane gets cut open prematurely, the cash blows up. If the GPS locator hooks up with the wrong satellite," Jack explains, "the cash blows up."

And if the cash blows up before Jack recovers it, he can't square his debts.

Whether that explanation of the federal payload is accurate or merely the product of Roger Hobbs' fertile imagination, it sets up an intriguing story line that pits Jack against two sets of bad guys, the law, and the clock.

The entire book is rich with such explanations of criminal operations.  

Perhaps Hobbs, who looks like a teenager in the author's photograph on the jacket of the book, has a great imagination. Perhaps, in his brief life, he's had a past career as a master criminal. 

Whatever the case, Ghostman is a first-class debut. 

If  Hobbs doesn't vanish as easily as Jack Delton  -- and I think the success of this first novel guarantees he won't -- I'm ready to add Hobbs' future books to my must-be-read-immediately pile. 

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