Speaking of book reviews, you may remember my unusual post about Criminal Paradise, a new crime novel that’s so cynical and so yucky in a scene involving the narrator taking advantage of a woman…that I recommended avoiding it. (I also had to wonder just how out to lunch the author’s editor was in reading that particular section during the editing stage.) Well, Paul Goat Allen, writing in The Chicago Tribune, has similar feelings about it.
Publishers Weekly, ahem, said: “This California noir, Thomas’s first novel, fails to deliver on its promising opening. When smalltime crook Robert Rivers and his partner, Switch, rob the Cow Town, a restaurant owned by Orange County entrepreneur Lewis McFadden, they discover more than a lot of cash in the safe. A photograph of a naked Vietnamese girl who looks like an underage teenager suggests McFadden is into the flesh trade. While Switch is out of town, Rivers and his biker friend Reggie England break into McFadden’s house, where they find the Vietnamese girl, Song, tied to a bed. After they bring Song back to Switch’s place, England rapes her while Rivers is gone. Soon afterward, Rivers has sex with Song, who’s actually 19, that might or might not be consensual. These scenes not only undermine sympathy for Rivers, they also conflict with the subtlety of earlier chapters. From then onâ€”through Song’s recapture by McFadden, a sex slave auction and an unconvincing final chapter involving the revelations of Rivers’s landladyâ€”overblown sex and violence hijack the plot.”
On the other hand, the great Ken Bruen, who must’ve been stoned or just read the first few chapters, blurbs it as: â€œCriminal Paradise is one hell of a story. Robert Rivers is a superb character: the wry voice, so full of compassion and weary knowledge; women would kill for this guy. The style is truly like Elmore Leonard. Send me anything Steven M. Thomas writes; heâ€™s the rare and real deal.â€
And to give you an idea of how jaded and out-of-touch a publicity department can become, just feast your eyes on Ballantine’s description of the novel: “The literature of larceny welcomes a newcomer with some serious chops, as Steven M. Thomas muscles his way to a place at the tableâ€“elbow-to-elbow with Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasenâ€“courtesy of a harrowing, hilarious, two-fisted, hard-boiled thriller thatâ€™s pure heaven for anyone who loves a hell of a crime novel.” (There’s not a hint of Leonard or Hiaasen in this thing, but then who knows how much of the novel anybody read.) Yeah, that’s their job, but still, the facile “literature of larceny,” breezy and blithe, coupled with “harrowing, hilarious…hard-boiled” that’s “pure heaven” really takes consonance and reality to new lows.
The usually ‘tarded Harriet Klausner actually notes the same problem I did: “This is an interesting crime caper that loses some of its charm with the transformation of River from a likable heroic thief to a disappointing user-predator when he has sex with Song even if she is a consenting adult…” …although as usual she manages to flub her lines and fall gracelessly off stage head-first into the orchestra pit. (The crack-addled dissonant echo between the PW review and her attempt at telling readers about the problem does raise an eyebrow.)
Some Amazon readers acknowledge the moral problems, but still give the book four stars. Frankly, and to be blunt, I see it this way: if you were to attend a reading and the author took a dump on stage half-way through, you wouldn’t tell people afterwards that it was a great reading except for “a little incident.” (Unless, I suppose, if it was Seamus Heaney.)