Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Another Great Thrill Ride from Owen Laukkanen

This, the third novel in the Stevens-Windermere series, begins with the two protagonists, Minnesota BCA agent, Kirk Stevens, and his occasional partner, FBI agent Carla Windermere, enjoying a cup of coffee and a quiet conversation in a St. Paul park. They casually watch a luxurious Bentley sedan pull up in front of the hotel across the street from the park and speculate about who might be in it--Prince, maybe?

They watch as an elderly, white-haired man steps out of the car. An instant later, the man is shot by a sniper and with that, Stevens and Windermere's relaxing afternoon is pretty much at an end. The two race into a tower across the street from which the shot was fired and catch a brief glimpse of a slight, brown-haired man descending the steps as they are racing up. Only a few minutes later do they realize that the man they saw was the shooter. Windermere gets a closer look at the guy in a parking lot a few minutes later and is momentarily frozen by the vacant look in his eyes. Looking virtually straight through Windermere, he casually gets into his car and drives away.

Windermere is unarmed; all she can do is note the license plate and watch helplessly as the killer escapes. But with that, the story is off and running at a frantic pace that refuses to allow Stevens, Windermere or the reader any sort of a break over the course of the next 490 pages.

In addition to creating two very appealing protagonists, Laukkanen excels at inventing truly interesting and compelling villains, as he demonstrated in both The Professionals and Criminal Enterprise. In this case, a shadowy businessman has created a website called Kill Shot, in which customers can conveniently order a murder on line. The executive recruits and "trains" ex-soldiers who are suffering from PTSD to actually carry out the killings, and neither the executive or his agents are leaving Stevens, Windermere and the rest of the authorities any sort of useful evidence that might help them break the case.

It's another page-turner from Laukkanen, with well-drawn settings, an intriguing cast of characters, and a clever plot that moves at the proverbial break-neck pace. And as it does, the relationship between Stevens and Windermere becomes increasingly interesting. Windermere is a very attractive African-American woman, ten years younger than her partner. Stevens is married to a beautiful, intelligent woman, who is almost too perfect and too understanding to be believed--especially when it comes to her husband's relationship with his F.B.I. partner. Notwithstanding that, there's clearly a growing sexual attraction between Stevens and Windermere and the question of how the two will deal with it constitutes an interesting subplot.

All in all, Kill Fee is another very entertaining novel from a writer who's clearly establishing himself as one of the best new thriller writers on the scene today.

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