B.C. novelist takes a gamble on ‘life of crime’

Book review: ‘Criminal Enterprise’ is crime writing at its finest

Owen Laukkanen has been a commercial fisherman, an impoverished university student and an international tournament reporter for a poker website. But the biggest gamble for the young British Columbian was a decision to live off his savings, reinvent himself as a crime novelist and write The Professionals. Such efforts usually die forgotten in a dusty corner of a computer hard drive, but with its release last year, Laukkanen stepped onto the top tier of the genre, earning raves from such giants as Jonathan Kellerman, John Sanford and Lee Child (“characters that live and breathe, and chills aplenty”).

It’s not just a case of working a formula—constant action, crackling dialogue, short chapters with cliff-hanger endings. Laukkanen builds that framework and populates it with flesh and blood, offers outsider insights into the economic decay of urban America and spins plots that build from an everyday premise into spiralling disaster. In The Professionals, it was underemployed university grads launching a low-risk kidnap business. What could go wrong? In this riveting second novel, we meet Carter Tomlin, number-cruncher, overextended family man, volunteer high school basketball coach. Then he’s laid off. Happens every day. The job market sucks. He robs a bank, with a note. Then another with a pistol. Then he finds true love with an AR-15 assault rifle and the rush of playing God with people’s lives. As for the money, well, there’s never enough, is there?

What powers both novels, though, is the complicated chemical attraction of its heroes, FBI Special Agent Carla Windermere and Kirk Stevens, Minnesota state investigator: husband, father, basketball coach. Windermere is the prickly loner who craves the big case; married to the job. Stevens re-enters the quiet life in the second novel, working cold cases, pining for a hit of adrenalin; married to Nancy, with a high hotness quotient and a low tolerance for cowboy cops. Windermere and Stevens are a team, better together; strictly professional, of course. What could possibly go wrong?

Visit the Maclean’s Bookmarked blog for news and reviews on all things literary

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.