With the Oregon Book Awards coming up on March 17, it felt appropriate to take the opportunity to write a review on what is easily the best book I have read all year.

“Ghostman” has been on bookshelves since February 2013, but it is worth mentioning again.

The fiction crime thriller was written by 2011 Reed College graduate Roger Hobbs. You will forgive me if I wind up getting confused and referring to the author as Roy Hobbs. Much like the character in the book by Bernard Malamud and made famous in the movie starring Robert Redford, it is easy to think of Roger Hobbs as “The Natural.”

At just 24, Hobbs achieved a level of writing that many authors three times his age will never be able to match. The story, about a career criminal who is sometimes known as Jack, is filled with action, theft and murder.

“Ghostman” (Random House, 321 pages, $24.95) begins with a prologue in which two men are waiting to rob an armored truck outside a casino in Atlantic City. The men gather up their courage by ingesting copious amounts of narcotics. Hobbs writes about the drug use in the delicate and scientific manner of Hunter S. Thompson. As the book progresses into the meat of the story, though, the drug use fades into the peripheral.

After the botched robbery on the armored truck, Jack is called to clean up the mess. Jack is a “ghost” — with the help of makeup, clothes and a change of voice and posture, he is unrecognizable from one day to the next. It is a talent Jack has worked on for years and makes him invaluable in the underworld.

Hobbs takes the reader into a brilliantly created world of crime. From “jugmarkers” (the person who plans the robbery), to “ghosts,” this world is explained in such great detail that at times it feels like a manual of how to pull off million-dollar heists.

Pop culture has been swamped with crime stories with TV shows such as “Law and Order” and movies like “Ocean’s Eleven.” It is a mark of true brilliance that enables Hobbs to write about a subject we have all seen and read about countless times and make it seem new and different.

As the main storyline follows Jack in his attempt to clean up the botched casino heist, the reader is periodically taken five years back in time to a big bank heist in Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia. The backstory of the one time Jack fouled up a job provides character depth and a deeper understanding of the world that Jack lives in.

Hobbs, who has spoken in interviews about reading the “Jack Reacher” books by Lee Child, understands the tapestry of a thriller better than most. He is effortlessly able to toy with the reader, forcing them to turn to the next page. While the descriptions of crime are very detailed, one never gets bogged down by it.

The narrative drives the story. And Hobbs’ greatest strength is his ability to constantly surprise the reader with twists and turns in the plot.

After finishing “Ghostman,” you are left with the impression that it was written effortlessly, and that the author could give up writing all together and work just about any job he wants — maybe even as a professional thief. One is also left salivating for the next book from Roy Hobbs. ... I mean Roger Hobbs.

Contract Publishing

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