Hobbs grew up in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. His Web site explains that he “discovered his passion for writing when he was very young. He completed his first novel (a dreadful science-fiction book) at just 13 years old. His first play was produced when he was 19. He had his first publication in The New York Times at 20. … He wrote Ghostman, his debut novel, during his senior year [as an English major at Portland’s Reed College] and sent off the manuscript on the day he graduated. Ghostman has since been published in more than 29 countries around the world and climbed numerous bestseller lists. In 2013 Roger became the youngest person ever to win a CWA [Crime Writers’ Association] Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. In 2014 he won the Strand Critics Award and was nominated for the prestigious Edgar, Barry, and Anthony awards. In 2015, he became the youngest person ever to win [Japan’s] Maltese Falcon Award. Booklist called Ghostman ‘a triumph on every level.’” The New York Times piled on, saying Ghostman “is the debut of a gifted crime writer who will only get better with his next endeavors.”
A good-size 2013 profile in the Portland Oregonian recalled the early source of Hobbs’ association with crime fiction:
He grew up in the Harry Potter era but didn’t read any of the series. He didn’t read many children’s books at all.When Ghostman’s sequel, Vanishing Games, reached print, The Oregonian was hardly less complimentary. Reviewer Claire Rudy Foster called it “a keeper, and a sign that Hobbs is more than a one-hit wonder. His first novel, Ghostman, was an international bestseller, and it looks like Vanishing Games will follow the same track.”
“I found them condescending,” he says.
It wasn’t until he was 16 that Hobbs found a book that engaged him completely. It was The Monkey’s Raincoat, the first in a series of crime novels by Robert Crais that feature wisecracking detective Elvis Cole and his partner, taciturn Joe Pike.
“The voice!” Hobbs says, smiling at the memory. “It was my first encounter with that first-person noir voice. I didn’t think people were making books like that anymore, that it was a dead form, the first-person hard-boiled narrator. When I realized the Elvis Cole series was ongoing and has been ongoing for more years than I’ve been alive, I thought there’s really a market for this first-person voice, and it’s so delicious, so propulsive. And Robert Crais is very funny, and I really liked that.”
Hobbs immediately started writing a comic detective novel, “very much a Robert Crais ripoff.” He remembers the title of this one: “The Otaku. It means nerd or fanboy in Japanese. It was about a detective chasing down a stolen multimillion-dollar comic book.”
The Otaku failed, Hobbs says, because the tone was uneven, a common problem for writers of any age. He was hooked on crime fiction and on first-person and began devouring novels by James Patterson and Lee Child. He would break down a book by Patterson onto index cards, “reverse engineering” it to see how the plot worked. The short sentences and cliffhanger chapter endings that are staples of Patterson’s fiction would show up a few years later in Ghostman, a thriller that can be described as being written in Patterson’s style with a hero similar to Child’s Jack Reacher.
Earlier this year, Hobbs reported on his Web site that he had a third book in the works: City of Sirens, set in Bangkok, Thailand, and involving “a priceless work of art.” He even put together a soundtrack to get readers in the mood for his new tale. There’s no listing for City of Sirens at Amazon, and I don’t see any other mention online of its future publication. But I will keep my eye out for it.
Meanwhile, Gary Fisketjon, Hobbs’ editor at Knopf, is quoted in Publishers Lunch as saying of his death: “This is a shocking, tragic loss. Roger accomplished so much as a writer in so little time, and his future was sure to be extraordinary in ways we’ll now never know. And as his friend I’m doubly devastated.”
(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)
READ MORE: A Roger Hobbs obituary is now available from The Oregonian. In addition, this remembrance was posted on the Web site of his former college’s alumni magazine.