Thoreau’s quote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them” kept coming to me when I picked up the novel “Criminal Enterprise” by Owen Laukkanen.  In the case of the main character in the novel the quiet desperation couldn’t stay quiet any more. It leaked out and caused a lot of damage. 

“Criminal Enterprise” is a page turner. I finished the novel on Saturday July 30, 2016. It made me want to know what happens next and how the characters react. It’s a perfect Summer novel to read by the beach or in the backyard. This novel gives you the feeling of watching a gritty and fast paced action movie.  

Carter Tomlin is the main character and on the surface he is a normal guy. This story is all about how he goes from a well-paid accountant in Minnesota and turns into a lunatic who robs banks and kills people. The leap was not made instantaneously. It started for Tomlin when he lost his job, the bills started to pile up and he didn’t see any way out of it. These small steps turn into bigger ones as Tomlin’s descends into greater desperation and cruelty. Eventually it all comes apart on him when Stevens from the Bereau of Criminal Apprehensions (BCA) and Windermere from the Federal Bereau of Investigation (FBI) get involved in the case and catch up to Tomlin and his cohorts in crime.

Tomlin loses everything. Does he lose his life or not? For the answer you will have to read the book.

Tomlin started his new career in criminal enterprises on thin justifications. Here is what I mean: “Rydin [a previous co-worker] promised to try and send some freelance work Tomlin’s way. No guarantees, though. In the meantime, Becca’s [Tomlin’s wife] teaching gig was about to expire. The kids wanted Santa Claus to bring them a Wii.” (Laukkanen, 30-31). Yep. That’s right. He entered a life of crime because his kids wanted a Wii. Eventually this turned Tomlin into someone that was like “a zombie hungry for brains” (Laukkanen 461). 

The pure anger and frustration that can happen when you feel like you never get a head in life is what makes the character of Tomlin someone we can relate to even as we feel horrified by his morally reprehensible actions.  

Probably the character I related to the most was the BCA agent Stevens.  He is also living a life of quiet desperation but you get a sense from him that he won’t go to the grave with his song still in him. He is a fighter and determined to sing his song even though the demands of family life create a conflict with his desire for adventure. 

“What will I do when desperation hits my soul?” is the core question of the novel in my mind. How would you answer it?


Laukkanen, Owen. Criminal Enterprises. Berkley Books: New York. 2013