Quick Review: VANISHING GAMES by Roger Hobbs (Corgi/Knopf)

HobbsR-G2-VanishingGamesUKPBThe Ghostman returns, to save his mentor…

I work alone. 

I may be the best thief in the world but no one will ever know a single thing about me. Well, almost no one. 

A lifetime ago I had a mentor, Angela. She taught me how to be a criminal, how to run a heist. 

And now, six years after she vanished and left me high and dry on a job in Kuala Lumpur, she’s sent me an SOS.

Or at least I think it’s her. If it is, then I’ve got to go. I owe her that much.

So soon I’ll be on a plane to Macau, either to see a friend or walk into a trap. Or both. 

But that’s the way I like it. Sometimes the only thing that makes me happy is risking my life. 

Time to go.

I very much enjoyed Roger Hobbs’s debut, Ghostman: it was fast-paced, entertaining and offered an interesting twist on the international, high-tech thief genre. In this sequel, Hobbs gives readers more of the same. For the main, this is a very good thing, and I blitzed through Vanishing Games.

Despite how much I enjoyed reading the novel, I did think the novel had two minor, though noticeable, weaknesses. First, the opening chapters felt like the author was holding the reader’s hand through some exposition that was already self-explanatory. This was mildly annoying. But, the impact was mitigated by the fact that the events described were pretty exciting and otherwise well-composed. Indeed, many readers may find Hobbs’s tendency to explain nearly everything in detail a little frustrating, but the author’s enthusiasm for his subject matter is so evident that one can’t help but be swept up for the ride. (I felt much the same about the level of detail in Ghostman — you can read my review here.) The story-hand-holding mostly vanished, though, once the perspective shifted to Jack’s.

Which brings me to a second thing: the pacing was so fast that I often lost track of time — in both the good and bad way. The good way, because I was blitzing through the pages at such a rate that I never once looked at a clock while reading. In the “bad” sense, because it was not entirely clear, even after finishing, how much time was supposed to have transpired in the novel. The story is set in Hong Kong and, predominantly, Macau — two places I have zero familiarity with, so I didn’t know anything really about scales and distances. While I got a great sense of atmosphere through Hobbs’s story and Jack’s adventures, I never developed as full a sense of geography. Ultimately, this is of minor importance to the story, but it is something that stood out for me. Hobbs’s ability to evoke the different neighbourhoods of Macau is excellent — the contrasts between the glitz of the casino district and the ghettos perfectly presented on the page.

HobbsR-G2-VanishingGamesUSPBI very much enjoyed returning to the underground world of the Ghostman and his contemporaries and adversaries. While the first novel in the series was a heist, Vanishing Games is about a cat-and-mouse game played between Jack and an operative from a long-unnamed organization. Jack is brought to Macau after he receives a cry for help from the woman who trained him to become a ghostman. She’s got herself caught between some very powerful, bloodthirsty factions, and needs help getting out of the situation. This is, after all, what Jack does best.

Actually, there was one other thing that bugged me. At one point early on in the novel, a package is delivered to Angela, complete with demands and a grisly warning. A few pages later, the note included in the package reads, “I’ll be watching.” This spooks Angela, understandably, who thinks, “somebody knew where she was”! Um, yeah: they delivered a package to you…

The characters are interesting and well-rounded, distinct from each other — it never felt as though the secondary and tertiary characters were slight variations from central casting. Hobbs managed to give each of them quirks and mannerisms that set them apart from each other nicely.

This review may appear more negative than positive, or perhaps cool toward the novel, but the truth is that I found it gripping and entertaining. I’ll definitely read any other novel Hobbs writes, and I think the Ghostman is a fascinating character with near-endless potential for storytelling. As I think I mentioned in my review for the author’s debut, the character is surprisingly well-rounded and three-dimensional for someone who has purposefully made himself a chameleon and ‘blank’, able to shift his appearance in hundreds of ways to make himself seem completely different.

So, despite those minor weaknesses, Vanishing Games is an entertaining, rip-roaring action thriller. If you’re after a series that mixes many favourite elements from across thriller sub-genres, and will keep you reading well into the night, then Hobbs’s Ghostman series is for you. Definitely recommended. More, please.

*

Vanishing Games is out now, published in the UK by Corgi and in the US by Knopf.

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