Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Professionals, by Owen Laukkanen ($9.99)

"The Professionals" is a pretty good thriller, a debut novel by Canadian Owen Laukkanen. Although it's a long book for a thriller (482 pages), Laukkanen moves the pace along sprintingly. He works hard not to muddy the waters with too complex a plot, for which I give him a couple of cheers, because he does juggle two hefty, different-but-related storylines.

Arthur Pender, Marie McAllister, Matt Sawyer, and Ben Stirzaker are recent college graduates with no interesting job prospects. So they decide to become kidnappers. Maybe this plot device is a little outrageous, but without it, you've got bubkes. Really, what would you do with your mediocre credentials in history from UDub?

The young-uns prove to be talented kidnappers with no significant harm befalling themselves or their victims for the three or so years they've been at it. They mostly choose wealthy but not famous bankers around the country, feeding a Robin Hood complex. They keep their ransom demand to $60,000. Why not $100,000? Do you have to pay more taxes if it goes over $60,000? Why not $80,000 at least; that would split into a nice number with lots of zeroes among four people. They want to lie on the beach in the Maldives. Just a couple more years, Pender, "The Boss," estimates before they will have enough to "retire."

There's an eccentric charm to the mixture of innocence and cunning that they bring to their game, and it is a game for them, up until they kill someone. The someone, unfortunately, is mob-related. Suddenly there are gangsters gunning for them.

We learn just enough about the individual kidnappers to sympathize. It's more "Thelma and Louise" than "Bonnie and Clyde."

And where are the authorities while all this is going on? The group has been on their spree for a few years before one cagey law enforcement official, Kirk Stevens, an investigator with the BCA in Minneapolis, tumbles to the serial kidnappings. He connects with a local FBI agent, Carla Windemere, and the two of them proceed to assemble the jigsaw puzzle. It turns out this is really Stevens and Windemere's story, and there's a second volume of their adventures in the works.

The characters of Stevens and Windemere struggle with their personalities. In their storyline, they apparently are attracted to each other when they should be sticking to business. Seriously. What are they basing their attraction on? Forced close proximity seems to be the top runner, as far as I can tell. Other than that, there's only a moment or two of snappy dialogue and Stevens' fear of flying to fuel the love-at-first-sight scenario. Stevens has a nice supportive wife and Windemere's an alpha dog. Those are great angles and those should be enough, but I'll bet you dollars to donuts that we're probably going to see more of this romantic angst.

"The Professionals" is both a moving tragedy and an entertaining story.

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