Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book Review: "The Professionals" by Owen Laukkanen

I read a fair amount of crime novels/mysteries/thrillers, which have become more and more popular in recent years. For me, a good book in these genres needs to hook you quickly and completely and be reasonably plausible (unless I'm reading one of Michael Koryta's more supernatural-type thrillers), and above all, I can't stand when the killer/villain is practically omnipotent, always one step ahead of everyone else.

While I appreciate a good page-turner every now and again, I do like when these books are well-written at the same time. Another hallmark of a well-written crime novel is when the author creates multidimensional villains, so you find yourself unsure of just whom to root for—you know inherently that the villains are bad and should be caught, but you actually see them as people, too.

Owen Laukkanen's The Professionals hit all of the above criteria for me. I picked it up at the airport on the way out of town last week, and quickly tore through the book. Reasonably believable plot, good action, well-drawn characters, and a few twists and turns definitely kept me hooked—and satisfied—from start to finish.

Pender, Marie, Sawyer, and Mouse are recent college graduates disillusioned with the job market and their prospects of finding lucrative work. Lamenting about the lack of potential possibilities for a successful life, one night someone jokes about turning to kidnapping as a way to make some money. And then suddenly the joke takes on a life of its own, as the foursome begins traveling from city to city, selecting a target, executing a kidnapping, demanding a reasonable amount of ransom, releasing their victim, and moving on. They feel as if they're in control of the situation—they're wise not to demand too much money, they research their target methodically before executing a plan, and their strategy has paid off.

But then they kidnap the wrong men, and their carefully laid plans start to go awry. Suddenly there are two sets of people after them—Minnesota state investigator Kirk Stevens and young FBI agent Carla Windermere, and a small organized crime faction bent on making them pay for one of their mistakes. Their web grows smaller and smaller, and their dreams of fleeing the country for a dreamy life of retirement grow ever farther away.

I really thought Laukkanen did a very good job with this book. I enjoyed its mix of action, investigation, character introspection, and what happens when carefully laid plans—and the rules you set for yourself—fall by the wayside. The Professionals is an enjoyable, interesting page-turner that would definitely make a fun movie. My only criticism is that I felt Laukkanen's depiction of the mob characters hewed a little closer to stereotype than anything else, but it didn't mar my enjoyment of the book. If you're a fan of this genre, I think you'll enjoy it.

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