"The Stolen Ones" (Putnam), by Owen Laukkanen
Owen Laukkanen's "The Stolen Ones" concerns human trafficking and follows two Romanian sisters, Irina and Catalina, who have been kidnapped to sell as sex workers. Irina escapes, triggering a sequence of events that further threaten Catalina. Special Agent Kirk Stevens of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and his FBI partner Carla Windermere are called in to find the sister and the other kidnapped women. Language barriers (Irina speaks very little English) and a crew of slippery villains well-versed in police evasion make their job both difficult and, naturally, dangerous.
Laukkanen excels at writing relentlessly fast-paced action scenes, and this book is full of them, with exceptional final fight scenes. While the plot may feel familiar to those of us steeped in television procedurals, its exposure of the insidious details of sex trafficking, in particular of very young girls, is laudable, though perhaps a bit sensationalized for something this horrific and terrifying (a critique I realize may be unfair given the thriller genre).
Also appreciated is the agency granted to Irina and Catalina. I was less than impressed with the characterization of the bad guys in this book — there seems to be an attempt to humanize one of them and it simply doesn't work — and the head of the trafficking organization feels over the top even by TV standards.
This is the fourth installment of the author's popular Stevens/Windermere series, and while knowledge of the previous books is not absolutely necessary to enjoy "The Stolen Ones," it may help in piecing together the characters' relationships with each other.