NOVEL APPROACH: Unfinished business

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First Posted: 3/11/2013

A doubt swells within us. Can we trust him, this ghost of a man? Time may tell, but for now, we make the plunge forward, following the ventures of a man who has long forgotten his true identity.

Meet Jack. First name only. Last name, unknown. Protagonist and master creation in Roger Hobbs’s debut novel, “Ghostman” – a first-person narrative about a man as elusive as his fictitious names.

Jack has lived a life of crime, resulting in business tactics that often come across cold and calculated. He might be a sociopath, but Jack is charming and mysterious – a character readers both question and applaud. Once every mission is complete, Jack’s existence fades into the background as he goes on to create one identity after the next.

Following a large-scale robbery in Atlantic City, N.J., scheme master Marcus Hayes must make the ultimate decision. After all, “[t]his was a job with strict plans, timing and endgame – a jugmarker’s heist from beginning to end. The man with a plan knew everything and called all the shots.” Unfortunately for Marcus, the plan failed.

The spoiled heist prompts Marcus to contact off-the-grid protagonist and anti-hero, Jack, who accepts the job in order to salvage a previous incident. Jack is tasked with finding the perpetrator who not only killed a member of Marcus’s crew, but also seized the money.

As Jack’s mission unfolds in a matter of 48 hours, readers are given a glimpse into his past. In a seamless manner, the plot moves from the present to the past, five years earlier, when Jack made a fatal mistake in Malaysia during a robbery. Back to present time, the event continues to haunt Jack, necessitating his obligation to help Marcus.

Meanwhile, as Jack’s relationship with Marcus continues to remain strained, Marcus’s rival, the cold-blooded criminal otherwise known as the Wolf, soon embeds himself into their affairs. But Jack, taking note from Virgil’s epic poem “The Aeneid,” continues forward using the motto, “Flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo,” which he translates as, “[i]f you can’t reach heaven, raise hell.” Much like the poem, an epic war looms, but a hero is destined.

Down to every detail of a toaster and methodical robbery, Hobbs’s unique voice resonates, making this newcomer a strong contender in the world of crime fiction. Like some of the best writers, Hobbs has created a character that evolves, becoming more complex as the plot rolls to an open-ended conclusion. Jack, like most ghosts, will always have unfinished business.

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