Monday, October 21, 2013

Finn du siècle, or Owen Laukkanen's balancing act

Finno-Canadian, really, but who's counting?

I very briefly regretted reading The Professionals, Owen Laukkanen's first novel, only after I'd read (and thought highly of) his second, Criminal Enterprise. References in the second book rob the first of a bit of its suspense. But I quickly adjusted and concentrated on how Laukkanen built that character in a way that held my interest even though I knew more or less what would happen to him.

Built is an important word in this discussion because Laukkanen assembles his ingredients with the care of a skilled pastry chef, though the result is a pretty explosive pastry.

Here's what I mean: The kidnappers in The Professionals (like the bank robber in Criminal Enterprise) turn to crime because their college educations are useless in today's job market. Laukkanen gives us enough of that background to distinguish them from other fictional criminals, but not so much that he whacks us over the head with sociology.

On the right side of the law, Laukkanen offers as protagonists a married, male, mid-career state police officer and a beautiful, younger female FBI agent who wind up on the road a lot as the crimes cross state lines. Romantic tension? Sure, but no soap opera, no mid-life crisis, no over-the-top, should-I-or-shouldn't-I angst. Laukkanen's Officer/Agent Stevens is much closer to Brian McGilloway's Benedict Devlin than he is to the male crime protagonists who lie by your bed in messy, unhappy, poorly dressed, divorced, alcoholic heaps. Stevens is an ordinary guy occasionally called upon to do extraordinary things. And then are the two rich college girls who fall in with the gang and don't do quite what one might expect without, however, behaving exactly counter to type, either.

But really, the books are thrillers. Heists happen, cops investigate, and Laukkanen lets us know just enough about each to hold our interest until the two collide.

(Laukkanen's third novel, Kill Fee, is due for release in March.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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4 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Its been said before about Brian McGilloway's work that he cuts against the grain of the lone wolf troubled detective loaded down with emotional problems. What Brian does is unpack the extraordinary in ordinary life which has got to be one of most importants tasks of the serious artist. And thats partly why I find Brian's novels so interesting (and also because he writes so damn well).

October 21, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That McGilloway touch is a smallish part of Owen Laukkanen's work, but the touch is definitely there. You should read the books and see if Stevens reminds you of Devlin. And remember: Laukkanen's agent is the woman who signed Declan Burke and John McFetridge when she was an editor.

October 21, 2013  
Blogger Dana King said...

"Stevens is an ordinary guy occasionally called upon to do extraordinary things."
Okay, I'm moving him up ion the TBR list. I don't care for amateur sleuth stories, but characters such as this--a trained, yet normal person--are not common enough. Something like this can hold an entire book together for me.

October 22, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, Laukkanen's books would make interesting fodder for analysis in a class on how to write crime thrillers. How does he balance the action and the human interest?

Trained but normal persons--Laukannen does that with Stevens. Brian McGilloway does it. Stuart M. Kaminsky did it in his Abe Lieberman books. Helene Tursten tried in Detective Inspector Huss and achieved it in The Glass Devil.

Plenty of crime novels acquaint the reader with the criminal; that's old. Other do so with the cops. Laukannen gets inside the heads of both, and gives both a fair shake, but there's no mistaking who the good guys are. It's easy to figure out what he does, not so easy to figure out how he does it.

The upshot: I look forward to his third book.

October 22, 2013  

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