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March 24, 2013 / schulerbooks

Criminal Enterprise, by Owen Laukkanen

9780399157905

Meet Carter Tomlin. Once, he was a hardworking and successful businessman who was proud to be able to provide for his family. He had a wife, kids, a nice house, a good track on a senior position, and things were great.

But then he lost his job, courtesy of recent harsh economic realities, and his life started coming apart. And that’s because Carter was too proud to declare bankruptcy, and with the severance package money dwindling, and bills coming due, he made a bad decision that changed everything.

He robbed a bank, like a total amateur, and got away with it.

Flash forward a while later. Carter has a posse, now, and they’re knocking over banks fairly handily. He’s making good money, and has a good rhythm, but  the take’s just not enough to handle his massive bills, or get him where he needs to be. They’re going to have to start taking unacceptable risks if he’s going to clear the hurdle and finally stop.

The problem is, he’s starting to really like it. He may not actually want to stop, when the time comes.

Cue the heroes of our story: FBI Special Agent Carla Windermere and Minnesota state investigator Kirk Stevens, last seen tracking down the surprisingly-successful amateur abductors in The Professionals. Their initial tracking of the robbers takes them in different directions, but they eventually wind up in the middle, again, and slip back into their complementary partnership — one that might be a little too cozy for one of them, and not nearly enough for the other.

Can they track down this group of robbers before the leader’s disintegrating moral fiber allows him take a deadly risk? And how close to home is this one going to hit — especially when the Kirk realizes that he may actually know one of the crooks in question, even if Windermere doesn’t quite believe him…

Fast, furious, and all-too-timely, Criminal Enterprise proves that The Professionals was not a one-off success. The dynamic between Agent Windermere and Kirk Stevens is electrifying, and the tragic story of Carter Tomlin may just haunt you well after you’ve finished the book.

If I have one complaint, it’s that this is the second novel where Laukkanen’s used the “good people gone bad because the economy stinks” trope to explain people’s criminal actions. Like the abduction gang in Professionals, Tomlin’s initial descent into crime is blamed on desperation in the face of monetary troubles, and then accelerated by subsequent moral disintegration. While this is not an unrealistic portrait of such persons — indeed, it’s all too common, though rather sympathetic — I hope that, come the third Windermere and Stevens investigation, we might get a different motivating factor.

That quibble aside, this book is a dynamite thriller, coming from an author who’s proving very worthy of the big-name approvals on his dust jackets. If you like your crime thrillers packed with a good mix of action, detection, and thrills, with good characters you care about and criminals you can sympathize with, though still condemn,you should make your next enterprise a Criminal one.

Criminal Enterprise drops on March 26th, and will be available in most Schuler Books and Music locations.

– Jim Tremlett, Eastwood

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