Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"Criminal Karma"

Steven M. Thomas grew up in a working class suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, where he was not an Eagle Scout or member of the boys choir. He left home the first time at 15, spending the summer hitchhiking across the country, working at odd jobs and writing a journal. Before becoming a fulltime novelist, Thomas was a magazine editor, journalist and college lecturer, teaching writing at the University of California, Irvine. He has also been a short order cook and an aluminum siding salesman. He lives with his wife and daughter in Orange County, California, where he is at work on the third Robert Rivers novel.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Criminal Karma, and reported the following:
Criminal Karma is the second book in a series that began with Criminal Paradise (2008). Both books aim to be classic Southern California crime fiction, loaded with action, suspense and shocking plot twists, set in a sunny, palm-shaded world along the shore of the blue Pacific. But they are also meant to be literary novels with complex characters and some real thematic depth. You see a little more theme and a little less action on page 69, but -- happily for the purposes of this test -- there is a discovery in the middle of the page that opens the door to all the action that follows.

Criminal Karma begins with professional thief and narrator Robert Rivers following a wealthy socialite and her tough-looking driver out Highway 60, from Venice Beach toward Palm Springs, where Rivers plans to relieve the lady of a diamond necklace worth a quarter of a million dollars. During the first 68 pages, Rivers and his gritty ex-biker partner, Reggie England, steal the necklace and then lose it in a brutal fight with a rival criminal who claims to be working for a mysterious New Age guru named Baba Raba.

Evading the police, Rob and Reggie return to Venice Beach where Rob immediately goes to work tracking the guru down in order to re-steal the diamonds. At the top of page 69, Rob is piecing together what he has found out about Baba Raba so far, trying to form a mental image of his adversary. Then, in the third paragraph, he uncovers guru’s whereabouts:

There was nothing about the guru in the library’s newspaper data base, but there was a flyer on the cluttered bulletin board in the lobby announcing that free introductory meditation classes would be offered each Saturday night in January at the Murshid Center for Enlightened Beings, where seekers could bathe in the beneficent darshan of Baba Raba, head of the Magdalene Order, healer of the heartsick, frustrated, angry, confused, homeless, loveless, and depressed.

I’d fit right in.

If Baba stuck to his schedule, there would be a meditation class at eight o’clock that evening. The ashram was on Broadway between Sixth and Seventh, about ten blocks north of the library. I wrote down the address and phone number.

From page 69 forward, Rob and Reggie focus their considerable criminal skills on infiltrating Baba’s ashram and finding the necklace. Along the way, they cut through the roof of an office building in the middle of the night to crack a corrupt lawyer’s safe and do battle with some old-school Italian gangsters allied with the guru. Rob also finds a girl he likes better than diamonds and ends up helping the rich lady resolve a tragedy in her past that has enabled the guru to get a grip on her mind, soul and jewelry.
Read an excerpt from Criminal Karma, and learn more about the book and author at the official Steven M. Thomas website.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue