Quick Review: THE STOLEN ONES by Owen Laukkanen (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Corvus)

LaukkanenO-S&W4-StolenOnesUSStevens & Windermere get caught up investigating an international sex-trafficking organization

When you’ve got nothing left, you’ve got nothing left to lose.

Cass County, Minnesota: A sheriff’s deputy steps out of a diner on a rainy summer evening, and a few minutes later, he’s lying dead in the mud. When BCA agent Kirk Stevens arrives on the scene, he discovers local authorities have taken into custody a single suspect: A hysterical young woman found sitting by the body, holding the deputy’s own gun. She has no ID, speaks no English. A mystery woman.

The mystery only deepens from there, as Stevens and Carla Windermere, his partner in the new joint BCA – FBI violent crime task force, find themselves on the trail of a massive international kidnapping and prostitution operation. Before the two agents are done, they will have traveled over half the country, from Montana to New York, and come face-to-face not only with the most vicious man either of them has ever encountered — but two of the most courageous women.

They are sisters, stolen ones. But just because you’re a victim doesn’t mean you have to stay one.

I only recently discovered Laukkanen’s thrillers, but he has quickly become an author whose books I think I will always buy. The Stolen Ones is the fourth novel in the Stephens & Windermere series, and an excellent thriller. Laukkanen is getting better with each new novel, I think. Continue reading

Review: CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE & THE KILL FEE by Owen Laukkanen (Corvus)

Two more excellent Stevens & Windermere cases

LaukkanenO-S&W2-CriminalEnterprise

CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE

From the outside, Carter Tomlin’s life looks perfect: a big house, a pretty wife, two kids — a St. Paul success story. But Tomlin has a secret. He’s lost his job, the bills are mounting, and that perfect life is hanging by a thread. Desperate, he robs a bank. Then he robs another.

As the red flags start to go up, FBI Special Agent Carla Windermere hones in on Tomlin from one direction, while Minnesota state investigator Kirk Stevens picks up the trail from another. The two cops haven’t talked since their first case together, but that’s all going to change very quickly. Because Carter Tomlin’s decided he likes robbing banks. And it’s not because of the money, not anymore. Tomlin has guns and a new taste for violence. And he’s not quitting anytime soon…

In the second novel in Laukkanen’s excellent Stevens & Windermere series, the financial crisis drives a successful accountant to walk on the darkside. Unfortunately, it awakens a side of himself that had hitherto been hidden. When desperation drives Tomlin to start robbing banks, his taste for crime leads his exploits into deadly escalate. Into the mix, FBI Special Agent Windermere is assigned to the bank robberies, which eventually brings her back in touch with BCA investigator Stevens. The two haven’t been in contact since the events of The Professionals, and their relationship remains somewhat strange and comfortable-and-uncomfortable at the same time. It’s a fast-paced novel, as Tomlin spirals out of control, and Stevens (and, ultimately, his family) gets roped into the case. I enjoyed this as much as the first novel. Highly recommended.

LaukkanenO-S&W3-KillFee

THE KILL FEE

In Saint Paul, Minnesota state investigator Kirk Stevens and his sometime colleague FBI special agent Carla Windermere witness the assassination of a local billionaire. The shooter flees the scene, but not before the pair see his face — and the blank expression in his eyes. Stevens and Windermere investigate and are led across the country, down dead ends and into long-forgotten cold cases, until they finally discover a chilling clue: a high tech murder-for-hire website. It’s a break in the case but only the beginning. Who is the dead-eyed shooter? Who recruits the assassins? And who profits from the fee? It is a race against the clock, and the killer has his next target in sight…

In this third novel, Laukkanen seems to be stretching his authorial-wings, in less of a rush to tell his story. This is no bad thing, but I certainly noted the less-breakneck pacing. It’s an interesting novel, and just as good, too. Stevens and Windermere have been keeping in touch, maintaining a friendship, and it is on one of their coffee dates that they witness a professional hit go down in St. Paul. They follow the killer as he flees the scene, but there’s something off about him — beyond the fact that he’s a killer,of course. Windermere and Stevens are tasked with uncovering the identity and motive of the killer. As more deaths pile up, though, they realise that there’s something far more sinister going on. The novel is an interesting look at manipulation and the depravations of PTSD. As it turns out, the novels main villain is not the killer, but someone far worse. A slower novel, but no less gripping as a result. Another great novel in what is fast becoming a favourite. Highly recommended.

*

Criminal Enterprise and The Kill Fee are published in the UK by Corvus Books; in the US the series is published by Berkley. The fourth novel, The Stolen Ones, is out now. The fifth novel, The Watcher in the Wall is out in March 2016.

“Silken Prey” by John Sandford (Putnam/Simon & Schuster)

Sandford-23-SilkenPreyUKMurder, scandal, political espionage, and an extremely dangerous woman. Lucas Davenport’s going to be lucky to get out of this one alive.

Very early one morning, a Minnesota political fixer answers his doorbell. The next thing he knows, he’s waking up on the floor of a moving car, lying on a plastic sheet, his body wet with blood. When the car stops, a voice says, “Hey, I think he’s breathing,” and another voice says, “Yeah? Give me the bat.” And that’s the last thing he knows.   

Davenport is investigating another case when the trail leads to the man’s disappearance, then — very troublingly — to the Minneapolis police department, then — most troublingly of all — to a woman who could give Machiavelli lessons. She has very definite ideas about the way the world should work, and the money, ruthlessness, and sheer will to make it happen.

No matter who gets in the way.

I’m a huge fan of Sandford’s Minnesota-based crime thrillers. In fact, I would say that he’s probably my favourite thriller author bar none. Silken Prey is the 23rd novel in his Lucas Davenport series, and the series just keeps firing on all cylinders. This time, Sandford turns his attention to politics, which always offers new and ‘exciting’ ways in which an investigation can become muddled, dangerous, or even impossible. Lucas is tasked by the Democratic governor to investigate what appears to be a political framing of the Republican Senator. Making things really tricky, of course, is the fact that they are all in the middle of the election. Party politics, dirty tricks, extreme suspicion, and a deadly killer (or two) operating on the sidelines? This is Davenport. He can handle it. Maybe…

The novel displays Sandford’s easy, inviting prose style, the wry humour that has always made this series stand out, and also his engaging and endearing characters. The friendship between Lucas and his various colleagues feels very natural – after 23 novels, how could it not be? The antagonists of the piece are well-drawn, avoiding cartoon-ish cliché or exaggeration. It was nice to see Kidd and Lauren make an appearance, as it feels like a really long time since we saw them last (the two of them had their own, four-book series earlier in Sandford’s career – and I would highly recommend those, too). The novel is uncluttered, unpretentious, and very focused. It’s not a blockbuster thriller, with a focus on character way more than guns or action-scenes.

The ending was just a smidge muddled, as if the author felt he needed to wrap things up relatively quickly, but I think he nevertheless manages to pull it off, and it wasn’t dissatisfying. It didn’t feel rushed, actually. The conclusion also leaves things open for further exploration in a later book (which I really hope Sandford does). I get the feeling that Sandford has some big plans for Davenport’s future, and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series. This far into a series, it is a testament to the author’s exceptional skill as a writer that he manages to make each new novel as gripping and addictive as the last. Long may this continue!

A short-and-sweet review, this. I don’t want to delve too much into the story, as there are a couple of switches and changes at certain points of the narrative. The synopsis, above, should suffice to give you as much as you need. All I can say is that John Sandford is a superb writer, and Silken Prey is yet another strong addition to his beloved series. I will really have to catch up with the companion series, which follows Davenport’s protégé (of sorts), Virgil Flowers. I’ve read the first in that series, but have six more to catch up on. I may plan to do that over Christmas and New Year.

Very highly recommended for all fans of crime thrillers.