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THE PROFESSIONALS by Owen Laukkanen: Book Review

In today’s down economy, a group of four college graduates don’t want to settle for low-paying, entry-level jobs. No, they have dreams, and the dreams require money.  So these enterprising friends decide on a Five Year Plan, an “easy” way to make big bucks–they’ll stage a series of abductions across the country, ask the families for an amount of money that is easy for the families to access overnight, release the abducted person, and then be on their way to another state, another job, with no one looking for them.  No one gets hurt, either physically or financially, except for the overnight scare of being kidnapped.  After a few such jobs, they can divide the loot, split up (except for one of the men and his girlfriend), and live the lives they desire.  Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?  And it is.

In Owen Laukkanen’s debut novel, The Professionals, all goes well for a time, thanks in part to meticulous planning on the part of the group’s leader, Arthur Pender. But when one of the abductions doesn’t work out, they quickly decide to abduct another man in the same city.  After all, they’d driven to Detroit to do a job, and they want to do one.  So they don’t do their homework, and everything goes wrong.  The man they kidnap is the son-in-law of a mob boss, and when one of the gang gets panicked and kills the man, things quickly fall apart.  And then they just keep getting worse.

Kirk Stevens of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and Carla Windermere of the Federal Bureau of Investigation are working together to find the people responsible for these kidnappings. Kirk is brought into the investigation because a previous abduction, a non-violent one, took place in Minneapolis; when it becomes obvious that the case is bigger than this one crime, the FBI is brought in.

Together they make a very good pairing.  Kirk is an experienced veteran, formerly on the Minneapolis police force, and Carla is a lawyer who is relatively new to the F.B.I.  The case, which to Kirk had seemed easy at first, veers almost out-of-control as the four kidnappers flee from state to state one step ahead of the investigators.   And the gang of four find themselves deeper and deeper into trouble.

The Professionals is a terrific novel for any writer, new or established. It is peopled by fascinating characters, nearly all of whom have a claim on your sympathy.  And when four kidnappers and a mob killer can be made sympathetic, for at least part of the time, the author has done an incredible job.

Set in Minnesota at the beginning of the novel, Kirk Stevens remarks several times that there’s not too much crime there.  For the sake of Owen Laukkanen’s readers, I hope he’s wrong. I’m looking forward to the next novel in the series featuring Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere, and I hope it’s not too far off.

You can read more about Owen Laukkanen at his web site.

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