Sunday, March 20, 2016

A great debut novel from Owen Laukkanen

This is an excellent debut thriller with a great cast of characters, a totally plausible and entertaining plot, and a pace that will keep readers turning the pages at a blistering pace.

When the economy is in the dumpster, what is a young person supposed to do? Four friends, Marie McAllister, Arthur Pender, Ben Stirzaker and Matt Sawyer are recent college graduates with good degrees but no job prospects worthy of the time and effort they put into getting those degrees. Ruminating over drinks one night, one of them teasingly suggests that they might make some money as bank robbers. Then another suggests, somewhat more seriously, that a career as kidnappers might be safer and more lucrative.

Suddenly, the idea is no longer a joke and the four hatch a plan that seems sensible, safe and rewarding. They will carefully research their victims, choosing only marks that can readily afford the ransom they demand. And they will not get greedy, picking very wealthy and/or famous targets and demanding large payoffs. Rather, they pick people who have done fairly well in high finance and ask only $60,000 each for their safe return.

Criss-crossing the country over the space of a couple of years, the plan works beautifully. The victims' families all pay up; they don't call in the police, and the gang is salting away a lot of money to fund their early retirements. But then, finally, they pick the wrong victim, a man who's tied into organized crime. Things go south in a big way, and soon some very bad people are trying to even the score and then some.

If that weren't bad enough, another victim's family has finally ignored the gang's warning and gone to the police. Now an agent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is also on their trail. And no, it's not Lucas Davenport or Virgil Flowers, but rather an up and coming investigator named Kirk Stevens. The FBI also joins the case in the person of Carla Windermere. Stevens is temporarily detailed to the Fibbies and he and Windermere are soon in hot pursuit as well.

What follows is a great chase that runs from Florida to Seattle, to Detroit and elsewhere. There's plenty of action and suspense and Laukannen so skilfully creates the characters of the four young kidnappers that you can't help rooting for them, even though Stevens and Windermere are also great characters and you know that you should be rooting for them. It's a terrific story, and it's really hard to believe that this could be Laukkanen's first time out of the chute.

This is the first in a series of novels featuring Stevens and Windermere, and the latest is The Watcher in the Wall, which is just out this week. The Professionals was released in 2012, and so obviously I'm way, way late to the party here--the penalty one pays for having a TBR stack that is totally out of control. But with this book, Laukkanen has jumped to the top of the pile and I'll be getting back to the adventures of Stevens and Windermere ASAP.

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