In 2012’s The Professionals readers were first introduced to FBI Special Agent Carla Windermere and Minnesota State Investigator Kirk Stevens, whose cable television-style pairing of street smarts and witty repertoire was so immediately familiar they felt like old friends. Perhaps the only real way to fully enjoy Owen Laukkanen’ sequel, Criminal Enterprise, the second in the Stevens and Windermere saga, is to completely shut off your cerebral cortex (i.e. the smart part of your brain) and just go with it.
Carter Tomlin had it all – a beautiful wife, great daughter, a huge home, snazzy model train set, and just about everything that qualifies as the American Dream. But the recession hit hard, and it wasn’t long before he was just another laid-off accountant facing bankruptcy and losing the finer things in life. So he turns to the one thing that captured his attention in a moment of fancy – robbing banks. Clumsy at first, it wasn’t long before he graduated to harder stuff, even recruiting a pink-haired sidekick and gunning for blood – literally.
His financial needs met, it isn’t long before reality sets in and Agent Windermere is hot on the trail, tracking down Tomlin’s involvement in a series of brazen bank heists that are getting bigger and more violent each time. People start dying, and with Investigator Stevens busy solving a case cold as ice, it won’t be long before the star-crossed pair reunite to take down Tomlin and put a stop to his violent and bloody path of total destruction.
Laukkanen can definitely spit out words and keeps them coming at an extremely rapid-fire, almost machine-gun style pace, with most chapters never reaching past the two-page mark. It’s a shame that the Stevens and Windermere characters aren’t developed more than they are, although I’m willing to chalk this up to the unspoken rules of the genre. Laukkanen seems to be consciously sculpting them as he goes along, filling in the smaller details that pass for character development (i.e. Windermere is black, Stevens feels restless in his marriage) so I guess we’re only a sequel or two away from having them fully fleshed out. At least main villain Tomlin seems drawn more realistically, at least at first, though his gradual descent into madness seems less to do with his separation from his glamorous lifestyle and more about giving our heroic pair a really bad guy to hunt down.
But it’s not just the characters that are light on substance. Laukkanen’s descriptions of Tomlin’s bank robberies have got to be the most threadbare and nigh impossible I’ve ever read, utterly lacking in both depth and detail, and while I’m not criminal mastermind (that’s above my paygrade) I’m willing to bet that pulling off bank heists has got to be more complex than what’s here. Maybe I’m just conditioned by expository stylings of Lee Child (who gets a quote on the cover) or even Laukkanen’s closest contemporary Roger Hobbs, whose Ghostman most closely follows in Child’s ultra-detailed narrative (and also earns a cover quote from the Jack Reacher creator), but I can’t help but feel Criminal Enterprise is more a work of pure fantasy than realistic prospect.
And Criminal Enterprise works best as fantasy, especially during the finale, which becomes an unadulterated rage-fest I found deeply disturbing and a bit unprovoked. At times Child’s encyclopedic style can feel almost too powerful, too knowing, so it’s with some relief that Laukkanen’s bank robbery fantasy seems almost comical by comparison. It’s hard to imagine a scenario this level of cartoonish violence ever happening anywhere but a Hollywood-styler thriller – and fictional crime novels I suppose. It’s a (mostly) fun read while it lasts, barring an ultra-violent finale that seems entirely unnecessary, and a highly superficial one at that. Those who like their capers fast and easy should enjoy themselves just as long as they keep their expectations – and willful suspensions of disbelief – in check.