Q&A with Owen Laukkanen

Owen Laukkanen’s latest book, Kill Fee, combines societal issues with a thrilling plot. It once again reunites FBI special agent Carla Windermere with Minnesota State police investigator Kirk Stevens who attempts to find those responsible for an Internet killer for hire plot. What becomes apparent is the person in charge has turned young war veterans into unemotional killers through complete control, as he transforms them into broken human beings who are obedient and lethal.

Elise Cooper: How did you come up with the plot line?

Owen Laukkanen: I had read a book called McMafia by Misha Glenny, which is about the globalization of crime and their use of the Internet. If we could do everything from ordering a pizza to finding dates on line I thought it could be possible to have anonymity and create a murder for hire on line. As a writer I used the fact that people can hide behind an IP address, and some can even bounce around so no one can even detect the IP address.

EC: Your antagonists are veterans who have PTSD, but you take that to an extreme. Can you comment?

OL: I used a DOD clearance to keep the antagonist’s identity secret. I compared this guy who spent his life building bombs to now running a murder for hire. I had him kidnap and take control of the veterans’ lives where there is this bond between the tortured and the torturer. After reading about the vulnerabilities of the veterans as they return home from Iraq and Afghanistan I became struck by how let down they are by the government and society. They are left to deal with their traumas in silence, and by themselves, because of their desire not to talk about their mental health. Here in Canada there has been a rash of veteran suicides. It makes you think about the physical and mental dangers our troops go through.

EC: What drew you to the mental health issue?

OL: I am passionate about this issue, and would like to be an advocate. I am someone who has dealt with depression since I was a teenager. For me, writing became an escape and an outlet. When I am not writing I get antsy. I try to write every day whether it will be published or not. For me it is a good way to release energy.

EC: You touch on the issue of relationships that are just between friends versus becoming romantic. Can you explain?

OL: In the first book Carla’s character was a bit one-dimensional that fit into the stereotype of that young, beautiful, butt-kicking cop. That is not what I intended so now I am trying to flush her out and give her depth. She had been hung up on her colleague Stevens mainly because she is a loner who finds human connections difficult. But in this book she is breaking away, which is healthier. She respects what Stevens does as a police officer and as a human being. I will never write them into a romance because neither character would appear sympathetic. This book is the start of moving away from that infatuation to becoming just friends and colleagues. I think it is very possible to realize that romance will never work and that they can just be really good friends.

EC: Readers will be reminded of John Sandford, was he an influence?

OL: I had not actually read anything by John Sandford until after my first book was published. My editor is the same one for Sandford and told me about the similarities. I then picked up his first book and after reading it thought this guy is going to hate me. I thought John would see me as someone trying to rip off his shtick. In reality he has been extremely gracious and has blurbed the books. I am honored to be compared to him since he is a successful and talented writer.

OwenLaukkanen2014 (3)EC: Can you tell us something about your next book?

OL: It will be about sex trafficking. Two Romanian sisters are brought to the US in containers, but one escapes. Windermere and Stevens attempt to find out the people behind this ring. This plot will also have a struggle between private and job responsibilities. Stevens is trying to handle how women are treated as commodities and the evilness of men as his daughter begins the dating scene.

EC: Lets discuss your interests. What do you like doing for fun?

OL: I watch a lot of sports, especially hockey. Because I write all day I want to get out of my house at night. I meet up with my friends to watch a sports event. I root for the Vancouver Canucks who sometimes break my heart and sometimes make me very happy.

EC: Do you watch any TV?

OL: I like Netflix. I am working my way through Breaking Bad. I have studiously avoided the spoilers. I am also a fan of The Wire. This weekend I watched a lot of the Archer.

EC: What music do you listen too?

OL: I listen to a lot of country music and rap music. What they have in common is sharing a fondness for a narrative. Country music helps me meditate. I do a lot of walking by the waterfront with my headphones on. My friend who is a cowboy turned me on to country music two years ago. This past year I saw Kenny Chesney and he blew me away. He is my number one.

EC: Why do you listen to rap music?

OL: I see a lot of similarities with this music and short crime friction. The songs tell a story with vivid imagery. The violence can spark me thinking in a certain way for a story.

EC: Any other interests?

OL: My dad owns a lobster boat and I like to go with him. I find it a wonderful counterpoint to writing. You are outdoors, working with your hands, and have time to think. It’s a good mix for me.