The Stolen Ones, by Owen Laukkanen
Why him? Well, maybe it’s because — after solving three really jawdropping cases — he’s the one to go to with something that needs some oversight. On the other hand, he is just around the corner from where the crime’s been committed. Hopefully it’ll just be some open and shut thing, and he can get back to campfires, smores, and watching his teenage daughter text her boyfriend all day.
That never seems to be Stevens’ luck, though, and this “errand” runs true to form.
A deputy has been shot, over in Cass County. The good news is that they have a suspect, found holding the gun with powder residue on her hands. But she’s clearly in shock, has no ID, and doesn’t speak much if any English. She also doesn’t seem the type to pull a gun on a police officer and shoot her in cold blood, but right now she’s all they have.
Thankfully, Stevens’ wife is on the case, and gets her a translator. It turns out she’s Romanian, and as soon as they can get her to open up, she has a chilling tale to tell: a story of young women being lured from their East European homes with promises, then locked in shipping containers, taken to America, and transported and sold to brothels out of the back of a truck.
It’s a disgusting and dangerous racket, to be sure, but there’s something even worse, here — at least for the girl. She was able to escape in the confusion when the deputy was investigating the shipping container, and shot dead by the men driving her to her destination. But the other girls are all still on board that truck.
And her sister is still trapped there with them…
The good news is that, thanks to his connection to FBI Agent Carla Windermere, Stevens can get a number of other agencies to join in the search. But without knowing what the truck or container looked like, or where exactly it was going, all the eyes in the world won’t know where to focus.
Worse still, this dirty business isn’t running itself. A human monster with a taste for torture and degradation — The Dragon — is at its helm. And once he realizes what’s going on, he’s going to want to find the girl’s sister, for much less liberating reasons…
Owen Laukkanen’s three previous Stevens and Windermere outings (The Professionals, Criminal Enterprise, and Kill Fee) were all fast and furious thrillers, graced with switchbacks and confusion, and a pair of excellent characters worth rooting for. With The Stolen Ones, he’s continued to turn the series into a family affair, as Stevens’ family and Windermere’s love interest both help and hinder in no small measure. He’s also given us a truly loathsome villain in The Dragon — bereft of any sympathy or moral underpinning, which makes him quite a memorable addition, considering his tendency to give us antagonists we can fear, and yet pity.
If you like a good mystery thriller with engaging and likeable characters who aren’t perfect, but at least mean well, and a story that will keep you at the edge of your chair, snatch up The Stolen Ones as soon as it’s available. But for the full effect, you should really start with The Professionals and read forward, to watch the working relationship between Stevens and Windermere — truly the heart and soul of this series — develop in earnest.
– Jim Tremlett, Eastwood Location