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A Crook with a Big Debt to Pay


A crucial clue in this smoking-fast new thriller is turned up by a “wheelman” — or car expert — who takes a BlackBerry photo of some muddy car tracks and using only his memory and an Internet connection is able to identify the tires that made those tread marks with 90 percent certainty in 10 minutes. “Wheelmen think differently from normal people,” says the novel’s narrator, known as Jack, who’s no slouch himself when it comes to details. “They see the little things.”

The same might well be said of Roger Hobbs, the author of this debut crime novel. Mr. Hobbs — who graduated in 2011 from Reed College — seizes our attention and holds it tight, not so much through his plotting or his characters but through his sheer, masterly use of details, and the authoritative, hard-boiled voice he has fashioned for Jack.

Jack is a career criminal, or more specifically, a “ghostman,” who’s helped maybe a hundred bank robbers escape over the years. He’s an expert in “the business of disappearing”: adept at the arts of disguise and using fake identification — passports, driver’s licenses, birth certificates. He’s also a descendant of sorts of Lee Child’s (actually Jim Grant’s) Jack Reacher — he too is a ghost who has no address, no phone number and likes to travel light — and Richard Stark’s (Donald E. Westlake’s) coldblooded antihero Parker, an efficient, enigmatic professional thief with little inner life and even less family back story. 


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