Owen Laukkanen’s debut novel The Professionals deserves to be the big deal thriller of the year. This beast is a tension-packed and assured as fuck, the type of broad-appeal book that never ceases to entertain yet challenges the reader morally just enough to get high marks from junkies with a jones for the darker shit like yours truly.
Shit kicks off with four college friends now in their late twenties kidnapping a man in Chicago and asking his wife for ransom. Thing is, they ask for sixty grand and no cops, keeping shit low-stakes enough that the rich victim can get the money together easily and without many questions. They pull it off beautifully and hit the road for Minnesota where they do it all over again.
Turns out they’ve been driving around the US for years pulling low pay-out kidnappings for a few years now and no one’s the wiser, the victims all keeping it to themselves for fear of their lives. Thing is, the guy they take in Minnesota decides to speak up afterwards, bringing the foursome to the attention of St Paul Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent Kirk Stevens and FBI agent Carla Windermere.
On their next job in Detroit the kids fuck up again when they grab a guy whose wife has mafia connections. When their victim ends up dead, you better believe some nasty pieces of work start coming after our heroes, guns definitely fucking drawn. And so begins a chase all across the eastern half of the US, the gang’s only hope seeming to be that Stevens and Windermere get them before the mob does.
With short chapters cutting between numerous characters and some very tight prose, Laukkanen holds your interest like nobody’s fucking business, making you break your promise to yourself time and again that, indeed, one more chapter then you’re turning in for the night. But you’re thinking to yourself, “Nerd, I expect that type of shit when it comes to big mainstream blockbuster thrillers – what’s in it for me, your fellow discerning noir fiend? Why should I break out of my comfortable bubble of soul-crushing fiction and pick this fucker up?”
Well, dear reader-who-is-essentially-me-and-therefore-I’m-fucking-talking-to-myself-like-a-fucking-psycho, allow me to respond di-fucking-rectly. What puts The Professionals over the top for me is Laukkanen’s compassion for his kidnapping crew. These are kids who thought they could go to college and come out with jobs other than barista and Gap sweater folder, who thought they could have the house in the ‘burbs and the 2.5 kids and a golden retriever like their parents before them.
When the American Dream shit the bed back in ’08 they decided rather than to keep lying in it they’d take some initiative, coming up with a neat plan that served them well until, you know, it fucking didn’t. Now all they wanna do make it out of the States with their crew alive and hopefully no innocents dead. Thankfully, because Laukkanen isn’t into the whole pulling punches thing, these characters have to make some tough choices before their journey comes to an end.
So the Nerd implores you to give The Professionals the old college try, dear reader, though be forewarned: your social life is gonna suffer something terrible until you hit the final page.