THE PROFESSIONALS is an impressive novel to which any author would be proud to lay claim, whether it be his or her first novel or 25th. It puts readers in the mind of what a collaboration between John Sandford and Elmore Leonard would be like.
"Owen Laukkanen is a master storyteller who can make his characters memorable and sympathetic while keeping the storyline moving along at a perfect pace."
The story proceeds along two parallel but slowly intersecting tracks. The first consists of a team of kidnappers with a unique approach: kidnap wealthy individuals and ransom them for (relatively) modest sums, warning the victims and their families not to call law enforcement either during or after the kidnapping and release. The team consists of four friends, all of whom are college graduates and unemployed. Each member brings a different and valuable skill set to the table. Things proceed quite well for two years until they kidnap a man who does the unthinkable: he contacts the police, bringing Minnesota state police investigator Kirk Stevens into the mix.
Because kidnapping is involved, Stevens soon finds himself working with Carla Windermere, an up-and-coming FBI agent. Stevens and Windermere work well together, but they really don’t know what they have until the kidnapping team makes another error by driving to Detroit and kidnapping the worst possible victim: the husband of a woman with familial connections to organized crime. When the abduction goes horribly wrong, the four friends find themselves on the run not only from law enforcement but also from the mob.
The point of view of the narrative switches back and forth between Stevens and Windermere, and the four friends on the run, with occasional visits to the mob enforcer tasked with finding the kidnappers before the police do and exacting some hard-hitting payback in the bargain. It is a grim story, indeed, as things go from bad to worse incrementally for the kidnappers, but the dark sides to the story are relieved a bit by some occasional dark repartee from all of the parties involved. Stevens and Windermere also find themselves slowly becoming attracted to each other, Stevens’ encumbrances (he is happily married) notwithstanding. They provide a bit of will-they-or-won’t-they tension along the way.
But it is the book’s main storyline that really keeps things moving, as the hunters become the hunted and move toward a conclusion that is almost certain to end badly. It is only a question of how much damage ultimately will be done.
Owen Laukkanen is a master storyteller who can make his characters memorable and sympathetic while keeping the storyline moving along at a perfect pace. The novel has a bit of a parable to it --- even a bad thing, well done, can turn upside down extremely quickly --- and the contrast between the kidnappers and Stevens and Windermere, who try hard to be good when it’s difficult to do so, is implied but wonderfully demonstrated. Laukkanen is reportedly writing the next Stevens and Windermere offering; for anyone who reads THE PROFESSIONALS, it can’t be published fast enough.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 25, 2012