The Stolen Ones by Owen Laukkanen is an insightful look at morality and greed. As a police procedural it combines an action packed plot with societal issues that do not get a lot of attention. Human trafficking is explored as the joint Minnesota BCA-FBI task force attempts to track down the girls and uncover those behind the operation.
The main characters, BCA agent Kirk Stevens, and FBI agent Carla Windermore return in this thrilling plot. After a sheriff’s deputy is shot dead, local authorities take into custody a person of interest, a hysterical young woman who has no ID and speaks very little English. The task force finds out that this mystery woman, Irina, is from Romania where she was seduced to come to America with promises of a glamorous career. Instead, she and her sister become part of a sex trafficking ring and are forced to travel across the ocean in a cargo container. Stevens and Windermore team up once again in a nationwide chase to save the girls and capture the culprits, uncovering multiple layers of horror.
Besides the riveting plot Laukkanen delves into the inter-personal relationships of the main characters. He has Windermore hooking up with a subordinate agent Derek Mathers. Unfortunately, Mathers appears to be submissive not only professionally but also personally. While Windermore is ambitious and strong-willed, Mathers appears to be weak and obedient. This might work in their professional relationship but after hours he still seems to be “mothered” by Windermore. Stevens on the other hand is a family man who dearly loves his lawyer wife who at times helps him with the case. With this family relationship there is a level of realism.
Laukkanen told blackfive.net, “I brought Derek into the picture to head off the ‘will they, won’t they’ with Stevens and Windermore. Yet, I wanted to keep them together as partners so I created the task force. I did not want to strain credibility that these two always happen to be falling into cases together. I like how these two characters interact, but because Stevens is married I did not want to allow them to have a personal relationship. As partners they are humorous and complement each other. Sevens is dull who does things by the book while Windermore is hotheaded and rash. Although she has a partner professionally I am finding it hard to give her a decent partner personally, someone who is her equal and extraordinary. Maybe Derek will evolve and mature while I am hoping to show that Windermore is more vulnerable.”
The Stolen Ones is intense and faced-paced with an intriguing storyline. It is thought provoking and raises the question of how anyone can treat another human being so horribly, and their willingness to sell their soul to make money by any means possible.
The author also gave a heads up about his next book, which has a very dark plot. It is based on a true story where an online predator preys on depressed teenagers. He goes to websites where people discuss their suicidal thoughts and encourages them to do it while he watches.