Did you like The Lock Artist? That Steve Hamilton stand-alone won the Edgar for Best Novel in 2011. Not my pick that year, but a good, original book that many absolutely loved. Roger Hobbs’ Ghostman has a similar feel. In the Hamilton book, young main character Mike Smith is apprenticed to The Ghost, who nurtures his safecracking skills. In Hobbs’ book, protagonist Jack is a ghost – a daring criminal who is a master of disguise, blending remorseless hard-core violence, the ability to plan for every contingency, and a talent for disappearing. And like Mike, Jack’s in love.
Also like Mike, Jack’s got a complicated backstory. He’s a ghost. He lives off the grid, fake name, untraceable. He successfully walked away from a heist gone bad, even though it meant walking away from the woman who taught him everything. He owes Marcus big for botching the job, but his hope is to never cross paths with him again.
That hope is foiled. Marcus contacts him and gives him just 48 hours to fix another foul-up – the robbery of an Atlantic City casino. Only one of the robbers makes it out alive, and it’s up to Jack to figure out where the injured man took the money. Even more important, it’s up to Jack to figure out how to get out of the situation alive – and that means he’ll need to outsmart everybody, including the super-smart lady FBI agent, various cops, genius Marcus, and evil incarnate: the Wolf.
It’s no spoiler to say that Jack pulls it off. Here’s what I loved about Ghostman:
- Fabulous main character. Not so lovable but you can’t help but like him anyway.
- Twisty, scary plot. And yet totally believable.
- Amazing pacing. I seriously read this book in a giant gulp.
- Smart resolution.
- The likelihood that this is the start of a series. (Pretty please?)
So, on to the ranking. Serious difficulties here. Clearly Ghostman is superior to Reconstructing Amelia. But better than Red Sparrow? Both books are totally believable. Both books utilize specialized knowledge (but Red Sparrow definitely has the edge here, thanks to Matthews’ CIA background). Both books have super-evil bad guys (even-steven). Both had great endings. But Red Sparrow made me cry. The edge must go to Jason Matthews.