02 Sep 2015 No Comments
The gritty, riveting, highly anticipated sequel to the national (and international) best seller Ghostman, by the critically acclaimed and award-winning Roger Hobbs
It’s just before dawn on the South China Sea when three experienced pirates open fire on a small smuggling yacht. Their target: a bag of uncut sapphires worth millions. But when one of them stumbles across an enormous treasure that wasn’t on the manifest, everything goes sideways. Within minutes two of them are dead, leaving the third, a coldblooded psychopath, to claim both the sapphires and the mysterious windfall for himself. If he disappears, he won’t just be wealthy. He’ll have the power to change the course of history.
His boss, Angela, isn’t about to let that happen. She calls in a favor from her onetime protégé: a fixer sometimes known as Jack, or more often as simply the Ghostman. Within hours he’s flying halfway around the world to find her in the glimmering neon slums of Macau. Jack has no real name, no address and no fingerprints—but given the right motivation, he can make serious problems vanish. Though the two haven’t talked since they botched a job six years ago, as soon as Jack’s off the plane they’re back together again, facing down a crime boss, a hit man and a conspiracy bigger than anything they’ve ever encountered and more dangerous than they could’ve imagined.
Their partnership—between people with no lasting relationships whatsoever—is at the very heart of a novel that will cement Roger Hobbs’s status as one of our most talented crime writers.
Published: July 2015
I loved Hobbs’ first book, Ghostman. I’ve been waiting for this sequel, and was thrilled when I was able to receive an ARC. That is where the thrill ended for me.
Loneliness is tiring.
This second book is something of a mishmash. The first chapter, which is for some reason labeled as a Prologue (it’s not), is fast-paced action. Sucked me right in. Had me wanting more. And then…
Running away wouldn’t fix anything.
The pace slows. Dramatically. We’re told a lot of things that are too much like research and explanations. These passages are interesting, sure, but they feel a little like the snotty kid who has to show off all his knowledge. These passages don’t flow with the book. They take us aside and say, “Hey, want to know how this works? Want to know why this is done?”
Piano wire isn’t actually from a piano, of course. It’s a similar material made of a razor-thin carbon steel alloy that won’t break for anything. The thing is wrapped around the victim’s neck posthumously and tightened like a garrote. It first cuts through the jugular vein, then the carotid artery, then the rest of the meat and the spine. In the end, the head just pops off. Human strength isn’t enough to do this, usually, but there are plenty of tools that make it possible. An industrial wire loop gauge usually does the trick. The most dangerous ones are electric. High-end cartel hit men call them auto-garrotes. They’re about the size of a large cell phone and can be bought at any number of industrial supply stores.
Then we have the reminiscing. Much of the content, particularly up through the middle of the book, is Jack and/or Angela looking back at their lives, their crimes, how awesome they were, and what they’ve gotten away with. Some of this is to help orient readers who haven’t read Ghostman, but most of it is filler. The plot doesn’t have enough going on, so let’s bring in bits and pieces of past excitement and show off. I’m not saying that was the author’s intent. That’s just what it felt like for me. In fact, I think plot development suffered severely because of this.
I can be anybody I want in thirty seconds flat. I don’t have a name, an address, or a face you might recognize.
About midway through the book, the pace picks up again. We have far less reminiscing and the focus is once again on the plot at hand. Parts were riveting. Parts had me rolling my eyes. The plot itself was fascinating. The way the pieces came together held my interest. But then we add the telling again. This is how a pro escapes. This is how a con artist works. This is how you find an off books doctor, and this is why he/she is willing to work on you. It’s a how-to instruction manual. It’s a criminal handbook. Yes, it’s interesting, as an aside. In a Google search. In nonfiction. Not so much within a thriller novel. Ghostman handled these aspects better, weaving them into the story. This felt more like show and tell.
How is that possible, you ask? Well, it has to do with fine line engraving. Real hundred-dollar bills get pumped out by giant intaglio presses in batches of hundred thousand or more. There are factories in Washington and Fort Worth that are guarded like missile silos. Mass production means there are bound to be small imperfections, and those imperfect bills occasionally make it through the government’s strict quality control system and into circulation. Real money has natural flaws. It just happens. Some bills have strange edges, or improperly inked micro-printing, or evidence of wear and tear on the master die. There can be microscopic blurs in the portraiture. Mismatched serial numbers. Misaligned errors. Insufficient inking. Gutter folds. Little mistakes.
The characters aren’t developed well. Most of what I know about them comes from having read Ghostman, and then from the reminiscing here in Vanishing Games. It was hard to really care about what was happening. I would have loved more time with the characters, in the present, and less time with crime lessons and reminiscing.
Everywhere the object went, a wave of corpses followed.
Roger Hobbs absolutely is a great writer, which I think is part of what irritated me so much. He is a far better writer than this book shows him to be.
Thanks for reading.