Owen Laukkanen’s Criminal Enterprise

Owen Laukkanen’s Stevens and Windermere series blurs the line between ordinary individuals and criminals. The first two novels in the series begin with an intriguing scenario of law-abiding citizens turning to crime. Laukkanen, a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s Creative Writing Program, started his career by reporting on gambling tournaments around the world. “Despite knowing next to nothing about the game,” writes Medley (2012), “Laukkanen was hired by a website called PokerListings.com and spent . . . three years jet-setting from Monaco to Macau, covering poker tournaments in some of the glitziest casinos in the world.” Laukkanen’s observation of gamblers living on the edge informs and enriches his depiction of characters who throw caution to the wind.

The Professionals, his first novel featuring FBI Special Agent Carla Windermere and Minnesota state investigator Kirk Stevens, was nominated for an Anthony Award. It features four college graduates who turn to a life of crime as an alternative to a minimum-wage existence. Criminal Enterprise, his second novel, is the story of an accountant (Carter Tomlin) who has it all – a lovely wife, two daughters, and a prosperous suburban existence. When he loses his job and falls deep into debt, he decides that one bank robbery will solve his problems. But once hooked on the danger and excitement, this suburban husband and father starts leading an amazing double life.

What really distinguishes this novel is the way Laukkanen depicts the transformation from law-abiding citizen to hardened criminal. Cannon (2013) observes, “As Bonnie and Clyde knew, robbing banks gives you more than cash; it gives you a rush of pure adrenalin that leads, inevitably, to Very Bad Things. Windermere and Stevens have to catch Tomlin before those things happen.”

Tomlin’s gradual escalation of delinquent behaviour is skilfully presented. Like Frances Iles’s Malice Aforethought (see my blog), the seemingly serene life of a suburban couple, masks deep underlying problems.

By blurring the distinction between citizen and felon, Laukkanen suggests that we all have the seeds of criminality within us. “I like the idea”, he tells The National Post, “of people reaching the end of the book and not knowing who to cheer for.”

Although Carter Tomlin occupies centre stage in Criminal Enterprise, investigators Windemere and Stevens are also characters you will not forget. As Tran (2013) observes, “Windermere, Stevens, and Tomlin are strikingly realistic characters sharing varying degrees of dissatisfaction with their lives, and readers will identify with their struggles to reconcile their own needs with their responsibilities to others.”

In its starred review, Kirkus concludes, “Fans of crime thrillers shouldn’t miss this one or anything else with Laukkanen’s name on the cover. The writing is so crisp, the pages almost want to turn themselves. He’s a terrific storyteller.” Readers will agree with Library Journal’s verdict: “This is a terrific Great Recession thriller whose postmodern amorality grips from the beginning.” Anyone who enjoys exciting thrillers and explorations of the criminal psyche will love this novel.

Cannon, Margaret. “Crime Fiction.” The Globe and Mail. March 2, 2013.

Laukkanen, Owen. Criminal Enterprise. New York: Penguin, 2013.

Mendley, Mark. “The Criminal Mind of Owen Laukkanen.” The National Post. May 10, 2012.

Tran, Christine. “Criminal Enterprise.” Booklist 109, no. 11 (2013): 28.