Criminal Paradise : Robert Rivers is a crook. No excuses, no apologies. Breaking the law is his calling, crime is his rush, capers his reason for getting up in the morning and staying up late at night. But he's a thief with honor, plotting and pulling off carefully choreographed heists where no shots are fired, no blood is spilled, and nobody gets hurt . . . except in the wallet. After a brief stint behind bars back in the day, he's managed to carve out a comfortable existence, cheerfully plundering the sunny Southern California community whose streets he tools in the tweaked-out Cadillac DeVille that's his pride and joy. But now Rob (whose name has become ironic) is pushing forty, and - like his trusty partner, Switch, who's got a pregnant girlfriend and a hefty stash of loot - he's thinking about quitting the game. But then he and Switch, pulling their latest Butch and Sundance, score a payday that could end up costing them plenty. Inside a strongbox packed with greenbacks rests a disturbing black-and-white photo of a beautiful young girl, eyes full of fear as naked as she is. It's an image that Rob can't shake, and a wake-up call: There are rules even he won't break. It's also his one-way ticket into the underbelly of the underworld - a lethal landscape of sex slaves, sadistic psychopaths, and sawed-off shotguns, where honor is for fools, and trust is for suckers, where very bad people do even worse things and nice guys don't finish at all. They just get finished off. With its alluring setting, quirky characters, and restrained and subtle prose, Criminal Paradise has something for every thriller fan. And with sharp natural instincts and writing skills as serious as his humor is sly, Steven M. Thomas shows as much promise as any author on the suspense scene.