Ghostman by Roger Hobbs
Knopf • $24.95 • ISBN 9780307959966
On sale February 12, 2013
You know that feeling when you pick up a book, read the first few pages—and realize you're in for the long haul? (And oh, by the way, whatever plans you had for that weekend are officially out the window.) That's how I felt when I started reading Ghostman by Roger Hobbs, a debut thriller that was written while the author was a student at Reed College.
The story starts with a bang—or several bangs, really, as a couple of criminals botch a heist at an Atlantic City casino. So then our main character, a "fixer" named Jack, is summoned to clean up the mess.
It's a given that this story is suspenseful and zippy, but devoted thriller readers will be happy to hear that it's also stylishly written, thoroughly researched and tightly plotted. Reading Ghostman, you get the sense that you've just discovered an author who may become a favorite for many years to come, and that is an exciting feeling indeed. In fact: Here at BookPage, we liked the novel so much we decided to interview Hobbs for our February issue—so be on the lookout for that in about six weeks.
Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the novel:
It takes months of planning to take down a casino. Luckily for them, Ribbons had done this sort of thing before. Ribbons was a two-time felon out of Philadelphia. Not an attractive résumé item, even for the kind of guy who sets up jobs like this, but it meant he had motive not to get caught. He had skin the color of charcoal and blue tattoos he'd got in Rockview Pen that peeked out from his clothing at odd angles. He'd done five years for his part in strong-arming a Citibank in Northern Liberties back in the nineties, but had never seen time for the four or five bank jobs he'd helped pull since he got out. He was a big man. At least six foot four with more than enough weight to match. Folds of fat poured out over his belt, and his face was as round and smooth as a child's. He could press four hundred on a good day, and six hundred after a couple of lines of coke. he was good at this, whatever his rap sheet said.
Hector Moreno was more the soldier type. Five and a half feet, a quarter of Ribbons's weight, hair as short as desert grass, and bones that showed through his coffee-colored skin. He was a good marksman from his days in the service, and he didn't blink except when he twitched. His sheet showed a dishonorable discharge but no time served. He got back home and spent a year cutting chops in Boston and another browbeating protection money out of dope dealers in Vegas. This was his first big job, so he was nervous about it. He had a whole pharmacy in the Dodge with him, just to get his nut up. Pills and poppers and powders and smokes.
Carry the One by Carol Anshaw
Scribner • $25 • ISBN 9781451636888
Published March 6, 2012
I was first hooked by the premise of Carry the One, but I'm naming it one of my favorite reads of 2012 (so far) thanks to Carol Anshaw's gorgeous writing. Here's the story: Carmen, Alice and Nick are siblings. Carmen—a feminist activist with a strong conscience—is the responsible one. Alice, a painter and a lesbian, is romantic. Nick, a genius astronomer, struggles with drug use. The action begins at Carmen's wedding to Matt, which takes place in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere—where Alice falls for Matt's sister, Maude, behind the scenes, and Nick and his girlfriend, Olivia, get high.
After the party, Olivia drives everyone home in the middle of the night—and in her hazy state she hits and kills a young girl who was walking by the side of the road. This tragedy links Carmen, Alice, Maude, Olivia and Nick for years to come, and Anshaw follows each of their stories for the next 25 years. They experience fame and addiction and jail time, marriage and divorce, love and death. All the while, they carry the memory of the young girl who died—and their guilt for her death.
Alice creates a series of paintings based on the girl's life. Here's an excerpt about her process:
Alone, Alice sat at the kitchen table while her coffee went cold, then finally went into the studio and sanded a gessoed canvas to begin a fresh portrait of Casey Redman. This would be the fifth. The early ones came to Alice set in places of Casey's childhood—inside a snow fort in a field by the toboggan hill, on a raft in what was clearly Sullivan Lake. Like that. As these were also places familiar to Alice from her time at the co-op, she was remembering as much as imagining. But the next one—Casey awkwardly slow-dancing with a boy at a party—came to Alice already articulated, though she had no familiarity with the specific setting, what seemed to be a paneled family room. [. . . . ]
Alice was beginning to see the terms of these paintings. She would wait for them to arrive and then paint them, like clicking a shutter, making snapshots out of oil and canvas. This was the central point of her art now, to record the girl's unlived life. Also, these would be her best paintings. She knew this already. She could see a whole world of paintings ahead of her that she wanted to make, and she would make them, but none would be as good as the Casey Redman paintings. She wasn't sure if this was a gift, or a sentence.
The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman
Morrow • $25.99 • ISBN 9780061706516
on sale August 23, 2011
In general, I prefer stand-alone suspense novels to series, so I was thrilled to learn that Lippman has a September book coming out that is indeed a stand alone—and not part of her series about Baltimore PI Tess Monaghan.
The Most Dangerous Thing alternates between the present and the 1970s. It's about five childhood friends who come together again after one of their group dies in a car accident . . . and a secret comes out.
Here's an early scene from the friend's funeral:
Gwen was spared funerals as a child and accepted this practice, as she accepted so many of her parents' practices, as the inarguably right thing to do. Certainly, it never occurred to her to bring Annabelle to Go-Go's visitation, and she is shocked to see how many young children are here. More disturbing, they are gathered around the open casket, inspecting Go-Go with a respectful but palpable excitement. A dead person! This is what a dead person looks like! In the fact of their bravery, how can Gwen not come forward and look as well?
A dead person this may well be, but it is not the boy she remembers and not only because he is thirty years older than the Go-Go who lives in her memory. This person is too still, his features too composed. Go-Go was never still.
"Gwen." Doris Halloran holds her hands tightly, peers into her face, as if nearsighted. "Pretty little Gwen. You look wonderful."
She does? She doesn't feel as if she looks wonderful. True, she is thin. She has no appetite as of late. But she is pretty sure that the lack of food has made her face gaunt, her hair dull and dry. Then again, maybe it's all relative. She looks better than Go-Go, for example. And better than Mrs. Halloran, whose face is white and puffy in a way that cannot be explained by mere grieving. Her eyes are like little raisins deep in an uncooked loaf, her mouth ringed by wrinkles.
The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly
Pamela Dorman • $26.95 • ISBN 9780670022403
On sale January 10, 2011
In this excerpt, Karen has just met and agreed to tutor the captivating Biba, sister to Rex, and they've gone to seal the deal in the university bar. Kelly sets the scene while maintaining suspense, never letting the reader forget that the book is moving toward a dark revelation:
"Can you buy a bottle of red, darling? A Merlot if they've got it," she said, and I wondered how someone whose voice and bag suggested an expensive education and a credit card could be too poor to afford student bar prices. "It's so much cheaper than by the glass, and we won't have to keep going to the bar." Red wine had always given me headaches, but I ordered it then, and because Biba and Rex drank little else, I trained myself to like it that summer. I have never had a sip of it since, though. For me, the bouquet of rich red wine is now indivisible from another smell, metallic and warm and meaty all at once, one that summons up a slideshow of frozen images in my mind like a series of photographs in a police incident room.