I've long been a big fan of Owen Laukkanen's series featuring F.B.I. agent Karla Windermere and Minnesota B.C.A. agent, Kirk Stevens, and as a result, I was a bit disappointed to learn that his new book, Gale Force, would be a thriller rather than another entry in the Stevens and Windermere series. However, that disappointment lasted only about three pages into the prologue of the new book, by which point I was thoroughly hooked.
At the center of the novel is a woman named McKenna Rhodes. As the result of a tragic accident which took her father's life, McKenna has become the captain of a salvage vessel named the Gale Force. As a woman in what is most definitely a man's world, she faces any number of serious obstacles, but in addition to that, she still bears the psychological scars of the accident in which she lost her father. As a result, she's been playing things very close to the vest and taking relatively small, safe jobs. Sadly, though, small, safe jobs are not enough to pay the bills and keep a boat like the Gale Force in business.
An opportunity for McKenna to save the business and to prove herself arrives when a huge Japanese cargo ship, the Pacific Lion, rolls over and begins sinking in a heavy storm two hundred miles off the Alaska coast. The ship, which is carrying five thousand Japanese automobiles, is abandoned, making her fair game for salvage hunters, including McKenna, if she has the nerve to tackle the job.
It's a huge gamble, given that just getting to the Lion would basically put McKenna on the brink of bankruptcy. And while the potential payoff would be worth millions, any number of things could easily go wrong: Another salvage team might beat the Gale Force to the sinking ship. Even if McKenna doesget there first, saving the ship and towing it safely to port would be a daunting, dangerous, and perhaps impossible task. The weather could easily turn against her and doom the mission. In any such event, there would be no payout at all, and she would lose everything.
McKenna decides to gamble on this one last chance, not knowing that there's another element of risk involved. A thief has stolen $50 million worth of bearer bonds from a group of gangsters and smuggled himself aboard the Pacific Lion. When the ship founders, he is forced to leave the bonds on the ship, The gangsters to whom the bonds belong are resourceful and merciless, and they will stop at nothing to reclaim their property.
Laukkanen, who descends from a family of boat builders and commercial fishermen, obviously knows his stuff, and he takes these disperate elements and very skillfully weaves them into a gripping, heart-pounding story. He's especially good at developing plot twists and crises large and small, and then expertly manipulating the tension level. It's a wild, roller coaster ride that kept me glued to the pages well into the night. All of the characters are very well drawn, and McKenna Rhodes is a very appealing protagonist. I certainly hope that we'll see more of her (and of Stevens and Windermere, of course), but Gale Force is a book that will be right at home in the beach bag of anyone looking for a great summer read. An easy 4+ stars.