Clues to My Crime: Owen Laukkanen’s GALE FORCE

In “The Clues to My Crime,” authors explain the influences behind their latest works of crime fiction. In this installment, Owen Laukkanen tells us about what inspired his latest novel, Gale Force, a high-seas thriller out this week from Putnam Books. Laukkanen has written six Stevens and Windermere FBI thrillers (most recently The Professionals), and two YA novels under the name Owen Matthews.


Owen Laukkanen © Berni Huber 2015



Magazine Feature

High Tech Cowboys of the Deep Seas,” by Joshua Davis

The germ of the idea for Gale Force came from this outstanding article published in Wired magazine in February, 2008. It documents the real-life tale of the Cougar Ace, a 650-foot cargo freighter that capsized near the American territorial limit in the North Pacific Ocean, near Dutch Harbor, Alaska. As in the novel, a salvage crew is scrambled from the Lower 48 to save the ship; the resulting story is a gripping and extremely intense introduction to what a real-life salvage crew has to deal with on the job—and the kinds of memorable characters the profession attracts. When I read the article, I knew I wanted to write a thriller—or better yet, a series of them—about a crew like this.



Hungry as the Sea, by Wilbur Smith

I can’t tell you how excited I was to find this book at my local bookstore a few years ago, and how quickly I devoured it. Smith’s 1978 thriller concerns a luxurious cruise ship desperately stranded near Antarctica, and the disgraced tycoon-turned-salvage-captain whose best shot at redemption comes as he battles furious storms, mechanical failure and fierce rivals to rescue six hundred passengers. This is the kind of book that gets my blood pumping, and to my way of thinking, there aren’t enough stories like this. So I set out to write one myself.



Ogden Point Breakwater, Victoria, BC

My own love of the sea came by early, and honestly. The Finnish side of my family has a long tradition of commercial fishing and boatbuilding, and though my dad is an oncologist by trade, the sea is in his blood as much as any high-seas mariner. When I was a child, he would take me for walks to the harbor in our hometown of Victoria, Canada.  There, we would venture out a mile into the sea on the long breakwater that protected the inner waters, and watch as every kind of vessel from massive cargo freighters to warships to fishing boats passed by on the Strait of Juan de Fuca beyond. From a young age, I fell in love with the sea.



F / V Koskelo

The Koskelo was a fishing boat that belonged to my uncle, a lifelong commercial fisherman. Forty-two feet long and a handsome white with blue and black trim, it was built in the late seventies to fish for salmon off the coast of British Columbia, but I spent some of the happiest summers of my life hauling prawn traps onto the afterdeck in remote Vancouver Island fjords. If my dad brought me down to the harbor, it was my uncle and the Koskelo that took me to sea, and I amassed plenty of happy memories—and a book’s worth of fish tales! The crew of the Gale Force operates as we did on the Koskelo; they divide their earnings on a share system, they eat plenty of fresh-caught fish, and they never, ever leave port on a Friday!


Narrative Nonfiction

The Perfect Storm, by Sebastian Junger

Junger’s tale of the ill-fated swordboat, Andrea Gail, is the book to read if you want to experience life at sea from the comfort of your own home, though my library is stocked with worthy contenders from the likes of Noel Mostert and William Langewiesche, too. Junger weaves the story of the Andrea Gail’s 1991 loss with all hands with a larger study of maritime history and culture, the science of oceanography and meteorology and a fascinating look at the lives and training regimens of the heroic Coast Guard “rescue swimmers” who risk their lives to save mariners in distress. I could read this book once a year and still come back with something new every time. Its influence on GALE FORCE is immeasurable.




A scene from Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation of The Wolf of Wall Street depicting a high-seas adventure of a different sort

The Wolf of Wall Street, by Jordan Belfort


This one’s kind of out of left field, but I was reading Belfort’s salacious memoir around the time I was writing the first draft of Gale Force, and its influence is clear in one key area: bearer bonds. It’s a cliché for crime writers to rely on bearer bonds as our McGuffin, and I’d wager that many of us don’t really have a clue what they actually are. Belfort lays out such a clear and compelling argument for their use as instruments of money laundering that it only made sense that a crooked Yakuza accountant might stow away onboard the Gale Force with a briefcase full of them.


TV Show 

Deadliest Catch

Mention Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to people and for many people, the hit crab-fishing reality TV show is the first thing that comes to mind. I’m no exception; I’m a rabid fan (Team Wizard for life!) and the show definitely influenced my portrayal of the town of Dutch Harbor and its citizens.




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