Criminals hatch a fiendish plot in Owen Laukkanen's The Professionals
By Owen Laukkanen. Putnam Adult, 370 pp, hardcover
Owen Laukkanen’s The Professionals is a multilayered thriller that combines classic elements of the police procedural with a startling contemporary twist. Laukkanen—a locally based writer and graduate of the UBC creative-writing program—offers riveting portraits of characters on both sides of the law. But it’s the bad guys who truly impress.
The criminals in this remarkably self-assured debut are four unemployed 20-somethings. Fed up with America’s dismal job market, they turn to cross-country kidnapping.
Smart, mobile, and committed to staying under the radar, they have a gift for returning their victims unharmed. While they’re careful not to get too greedy, their career change turns out to be a lot more profitable than working at Starbucks.
The ringleader is Arthur Pender. His method for what he likes to think of as “a kind of redistribution of wealth”? Kidnap family-oriented businessmen with a few million in the bank, ask for a sum no higher than a hundred grand, and give their spouses a limited time to come up with the cash. When they pay up, move on to another state and start all over again.
Initially, the scheme works like a charm. It helps that the kidnappers are a close-knit group of friends who each have a specific role in making sure the operation runs smoothly. Pender’s pal Sawyer is the gang’s muscle. Mouse does all the research for selecting hostages, and Pender’s girlfriend Marie handles reconnaissance.
Things turn sour after Sawyer ends up killing a hostage with Mafia connections. Suddenly, the gang has the full attention of FBI agent Carla Windermere. Windermere partners up with Kirk Stevens, a Minnesota state cop with early ties to the case. Together, they become obsessed with bringing the criminals to justice.
There’s a lot to recommend here. This is a genre where authenticity counts for a great deal. And Laukkanen has really done his homework, drawing us into the very heart of the extensive police investigation. He’s also a master of plotting and pace. But while the tension escalates to an almost unbearable level, his characters remain complex and believable. It’s the kind of satisfying mix that points to the start of a thriving career.