The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen (Penguin, Oct. 2012)-The economy is bad, and prospects aren’t looking good for new college grads with “useless” degrees, so four friends decide crime is the way to go. What starts out as light banter, a joke, even, ends up anything but a joke when they decide to perform their first kidnapping. They figure they have the perfect plan: pick targets that have money to spare, but don’t get too greedy, go for the more modest score. What could possibly go wrong, right? For a while, things go swimmingly. The marks are cooperative, and their plan of demanding modest ransoms seems to be working, but when they kidnap a man connected to the mob, things get out of hand very quickly, and they go from kidnapping to something much, much worse, and deadly. Meanwhile, state investigator Kirk Stevens has teamed up with FBI agent Carla Windermere and they’ve begun gathering evidence against the gang.
What a debut! The Professionals starts off with a bang and rarely does it stop and let you catch your breath. You get to know the criminal gang pretty well and although their motives are explained, it was very, very hard for me to sympathize with them. These aren’t kids from terrible backgrounds, with no hope of making successes of themselves. They have it all, but because of some misguided sense of entitlement, think that pulling kidnapping jobs, instead of paying their dues, is the way to go. They seem to think that kidnapping is a “victimless” crime, and even though they treat their marks fairly well, what about the families that are terrorized by the fact that their father or husband may not come home unless they pay a ransom, and even then there are no guarantees. Boredom is not a reason to commit crimes, and unfortunately, that seems to be their biggest motivation. They’re not evil people, but of course there’s a snowball effect to what they’ve done. When it starts to get worse, it gets downright terrible.
As for Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere, they’ve got a chemistry that lights up the pages, and since Stevens is happily married (with a very understanding wife), there’s no romance to be had, but their chemistry makes for a great investigative team. Stevens wants to find these kids, hopefully alive, and put to rest this case, and Carla is equally eager to get it done, but more than a few roadblocks will trip them up along the way. The inevitability of the criminals’ plight is obvious all too soon, but that doesn’t mean you won’t revel in the chase, like I did. Unfortunately, there’s some collateral damage along the way. If you love cinematic crime, you’ll want to let The Professionals take you for a ride.