Friday, November 25, 2016

Review of "The Stolen Ones" by Owen Laukkanen




A human trafficking ring is kidnapping girls in Eastern Europe and selling them in the United States. When a deputy sheriff in Minnesota becomes suspicious of a truck carrying a shipment of girls he's killed by one of the drivers, and a Romanian girl named Irina manages to escape. Irina, found near the deputy's body, is suspected of killing him. Minnesota cop Kirk Stevens and FBI agent Carla Windemere are called in to investigate the crime. With the aid of a translator Stevens and Windemere learn that Irina is a victim and that her sister, Catalina, is still in the clutches of the traffickers. Law enforcement officials set out to save the enslaved girls and capture the traffickers.

The man running the local trafficking ring is Andrei Volovoi, a mid-level hoodlum operating under the thumb of the Dragon, a ruthless murderer and pervert. Volovoi has a gang of men working for him, mostly drivers that deliver the girls to buyers around the country. When Volovoi - and then the Dragon - learn that two drivers let Irina escape there's deadly fallout amongst the bad guys and a scramble to punish Irina's family - especially Catalina.

During their pursuit of the criminals Stevens and Windemere learn there's a complex array of foreign holding companies that control the slave trade. The cops do manage to locate and close down a couple of brothels that bought some girls. The accompanying arrests make Volovoi start to panic as he scrambles to cover his tracks, elude the FBI, and keep the Dragon happy.

The story is full of action as Stevens and Windemere rush from one state to another following clues and Volovoi tears around to get his hands on Catalina so he can deliver her to the Dragon. Irina even gets in on the action, being determined to find and rescue her sister (though how she plans to do this with no money, no English, and almost no knowledge about the U.S. is bewildering).

The characters are engaging and sufficiently fleshed out. Stevens has a wife and family, including a 16-year-old daughter in love - very tough on dad. Windermere is in the midst of an affair with a rookie FBI agent who keeps making frustrating mistakes. And even evil Volovoi has a sister and beloved young nieces, which causes him a twinge of conscience about selling girls.

I found the book exciting and engaging for about the first two-thirds; then the action got repetitive. The same thing seemed to happen again and again. For example, someone almost escapes, gets recaptured, then it happens again, then once more, etc. Still, the climax of the story is exciting and satisfying. I'd recommend the book to fans of thrillers.

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