If you're looking for great nighttime reading that you can't put down, "The Professionals" by Owen Laukkanen (Putnam, $25.95) is just about perfect.
This is an exceptionally fast-paced tale that should easily be up for the year's best debut crime novel award. Laukkanen's outstanding effort features likable, well-developed characters, excellent storytelling and a corkscrew plot.
It focuses on an odd but believable plan by four college graduates who have degrees but can't find satisfying jobs.
Their scheme is to orchestrate kidnappings, but not be greedy. They do their online research and target millionaires; they don't ask for a lot of ransom money - just $60,000 or so.
To some of the very wealthy, this is only a minimal aggravation. The victim's wife or family members are instructed not to contact police; the cash demand is usually easily accessible.
The plan works well for two years, as the clever kidnappers crisscross the country, putting their strategy in motion.
Things start to go wrong for the group after their angry victim in Minneapolis goes to the police after the ransom is paid. Minnesota veteran state investigator Kirk Stevens is called in on the puzzling case.
The group runs into more problems when they travel to Michigan for their next big score. They kidnap Donald Beteneau of Birmingham, who owns four tool and die factories. His wife is the VP of marketing for a Detroit casino, but she's also the daughter of a big time, well connected mob boss.
FBI agent Carla Windemere is assigned the case; Stevens joins forces as they track to figure out the identity of the group members.
The compelling action shifts to Florida and beyond; nasty mob hitmen are also after the group as the action intensifies.
Laukkanen is in fine form, creating believable characters that a reader can root for, weather it's the assorted kidnappers or the dedicated cops on their trail.
It's hard to imagine that this is just the author's first book, it's considerably better than many current crime novels flooding the market. This is a knockout debut crime novel that could easily be made into a great movie.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop,
has reviewed crime novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987.