I know I’m twisted, so it should surprise no one that my favorite element of Owen Laukkanen’s novels is not the pairing of Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere. Do I enjoy the characters and their mutual itch, which they have successfully resisted scratching thus far? Absolutely. The somewhat abrasive Windermere, who is an FBI Special Agent, and the quietly brilliant Stevens, a special investigator with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, make an interesting pair, no less so because of the unrequited sexual tension between them and their investigative abilities, which complement each other nicely. That pairing is a good reason to come to the annual party that Laukkanen has thrown these past three years. However, the reason to stay is the villain of the piece, which is especially true of KILL FEE.
"It is Laukkanen’s unique ability to create villains who we love to hate that will continue to grow this franchise."
What Laukkanen likes to do is give his readers the pieces of the puzzle to assemble before Stevens and Windermere get a look. Thus we get to watch things develop at their own pace as the bad guys get away with murder, literally, with Stevens and Windermere in pursuit. In KILL FEE, the bad guy is a really bad guy, not so much because of what he does as the way in which he does it. He operates a clandestine business called Killswitch, a murder-for-hire operation. He does not work cheap and is extremely clever. As one learns during the course of the book, he is also extremely evil. The problem is that he is able to hide behind one of the world’s biggest rocks, which makes it difficult for Stevens and Windermere to hunt him down; they can only get so far before running into a brick wall (literally).
Still, there is no quit in Stevens and Windermere, and as readers of this popular series already know, the duo goes over, under and around anything in their way that they are unable to go through. But again, they are playing catch-up from the jump, which makes things difficult. And I do mean from the jump. KILL FEE begins with a Killswitch hit that occurs right in front of Stevens and Windermere.
A second murder quickly follows, which appears to be linked to the first; indeed it is, though not in the way it initially seems to be. Those murders are in Stevens’s territory, but other deaths follow in south Florida and Las Vegas, and while Stevens and Windermere get close, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. As often occurs with Laukkanen’s antagonists, the man behind Killswitch plants the seeds of his own destruction and soon finds himself pursued by a force more dangerous to him than law enforcement, a force of his own creation that no one may be able to stop.
In the short span of three novels, Laukkanen has acquired a loyal and ever-growing fan base, and deservedly so. The conclusion of KILL FEE lays the foundation for at least the next several books in the series, as well as providing fodder for the attraction between Stevens and Windermere to be consummated or otherwise. It is Laukkanen’s unique ability to create villains who we love to hate that will continue to grow this franchise.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 4, 2014