Vanishing Games
(Knopf, 304 pages)

Roger Hobbs ’11


Jack Delton is a ghostman—a professional criminal, who’s spent his career making enemies and disappearing at the right moment. When he receives an emergency message from an old partner, he leaves his skip-out in the Oregon desert for Macau, a gangster’s paradise.

It’s a classical Portuguese colonial town with a bustling Chinese gambling metropolis slapped on top of it. Industrial yards border on golf courses, cobblestone alleys lead to billion-dollar casinos. The vine-covered streets are packed with rusted bicycles and brand-new Lamborghinis . . . There are prayer flags and porn mags.

Jack can dislocate an attacker’s shoulder in one twist, but he’s curiously naïve about the larger issues in his life. Despite his age and access to unlimited, ill-gained resources, he leads a monastic life. No girlfriends, no cheap tricks. Crime is what thrills him, and he serves it faithfully.

In Macau, Jack meets up with his partner, Angela. He owes her all he has; she introduced him to the underworld, guided him through his first big heists, and bailed him out after their last job went sideways. That was eight years ago. Now, she’s the one who needs help. A plot to steal a few dozen uncut sapphires exposed another, more valuable prize. This mystery object is already hot, and Angela unwittingly enmeshes herself in a deeper conspiracy. She needs to disappear with the sapphires—she needs a ghostman. 

Although Vanishing Games is born straight out of the tradition of Elmore Leonard, Ian Fleming, and the Dirty Harry series, it has a few moments that defy the genre’s conventions. There is a refreshing sense of equality between Jack and Angela. The exact nature of their relationship is obscured—are they former lovers? Mentor and mentee? Angela’s sexuality doesn’t enter the picture, and, unlike many of the Bond heroines who wield rifles or pick locks, her clothes stay on. That’s groundbreaking in a genre that is sprinkled with sex slaves and bad girls in catsuits.

Additionally, Hobbs entices the reader to suspend disbelief by providing lavish technical detail. Ever wondered how to break into a hotel room? How a piano-wire garrote works? How to get a gun through a metal detector? It’s all here. Armed with “a wallet full of cash, four passports, four driver’s licenses, three prepaid international phones, a couple stolen credit cards, a radio detector, gloves, glasses . . .  and a dog-eared copy of Robert Fagles’ translation of the Odyssey,” Jack takes on his mission with confidence and flair. 

A gut-wrenching, high-tension crime thriller, Vanishing Games is hardly highbrow. But at the same time, the novel bears all the earmarks of a Reed education, right down to its Homeric references. This mix of high and low, airport fiction and classical epic, tickles the reader and keeps the pages turning.

— Claire Rudy Foster ’06