Owen Laukkanen is just a couple of years into life as a published author of crime novels, but he’s already created one of the most enjoyable series in bookstores.
His two books – so far – about FBI agent Carla Windermere and Minnesota police investigator Kirk Stevens are immensely readable stories of cops and crooks.
The first, “The Professionals,” would seem to be in the vanguard of books inspired by the Great Recession. Its criminal foursome are young people fresh out of school and unable to get hired. They decide to become professional kidnappers. Their modus operandi? Kidnap well-off but low-profile targets and ask $60,000 on the assumption that the kidnap victim’s family will easily be able to pay that small an amount. It works for a while but goes awry when they stumble upon the wrong target: A businessman connected to the mob.
In “Criminal Enterprise,” the central bad guy is Carter Tomlin, an accountant with a wife and kids who gets in over his head, financially, and decides to make money the old fashioned way: Bank robbery. Tomlin’s a different case than the four somewhat sympathetic anti-heroes of “The Professionals,” however: He not only enjoys the influx of cash from his robberies but gets off on the violence, particularly when committed in the company of his alterna-girl assistant and fellow robber.
Into the mix in both cases come Windermere, young and tough and an outsider in the FBI, and Stevens, happily married and settled into middle age and a long career in the Minnesota state police’s criminal investigations bureau.
The two cops, who end up working together by happenstance, are a good fit. Stevens balances out Windermere’s fiery demeanor with his cool calm.
Laukkanen doesn’t dip into the criminal world quite the way Elmore Leonard does, but his bad guys are compelling and relatable. Windermere and Stevens are the anchors of these books but Tomlin in the second book and the four kidnappers in the first book are absorbing characters. The author is working on the third book in the series, which is good news for fans of contemporary crime thrillers.