The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen

When a debut novel comes complete with plaudits from the likes of CJ Box and Jonathan Kellerman you have to open that sample on Amazon, and when the sample hits you like a solid backhand, you have to keep reading.

The Professionals starts with a kidnapping – all precision and sang froid, we see a well-oiled operation, running on tracks, seemingly perfect. The gang are in control of themselves and the situation. Because they’re well educated and sensible, they realise that by demanding smaller ransoms and targeting mid-level executives rather than high profile celebs they can get in and out quickly. No violence, no police. They don’t want to be doing this forever, they consider themselves good people, but the way the economy is what choice do they have? Nobody goes to college to work at Starbucks, do they?

The system works for a while, they’re in and out, paid up and away to the next town. Until, inevitably, they get sloppy, fail to do the background work, and snatch a man whose wife is mobbed up. Between his mouth and their panic the man winds up dead and after that things go haywire. The cops are onto them and the widow wants her vengeance. Everything is tumbling down around them and the group fracturing, trying to outrun their screw-up. There are guns and gangsters, and a borderline insane blonde who wants to play Bonnie and Clyde with her bullet-riddled new boyfriend. In short – all hell breaks loose.

Laukkanen has created a sparky pairing in his police characters – Stevens, the dogged detective thrown into the big leagues when he catches the case, and Agent Windermere, a ballsy FBI agent. There’s a nice frisson between them, enough to lift this book out of hackneyed police procedural territory. If Laukkanen does decide to take them into the next book with him, I for one will be interested to see how their relationship develops.

Reading The Professionals I kept thinking of Elmore Leonard’s maxim to try and cut the parts people skip. That’s what Laukkanen has done. This is a breathless, breakneck thrill ride of a novel. The pace is unrelenting and the prose stripped almost to the point of minimalism. There are no flowery descriptions and the scene-setting is pared back to essentials. But there’s more to it than that. His gang of college-educated kidnappers provide a commentary on the state of the economy and the high expectations 20-somethings have been given by their elders. They’ve been told hard work will lead directly to tangible rewards and found that to be lie. It’s no accident that Laukkanen has them target the kind of remote CEOs and money men who are fast becoming a new, white-collar criminal-class in the Western world. It’s a great book for the anti-capitalists among us, just be prepared to have your loyalties tested.

I straight-up loved The Professionals. From an established author it would be a winner, as a debut it’s outstanding. Buy, steal, borrow, whatever it takes, just get hold of a copy and read it.

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