Criminal Karma is Steven M. Thomas’s highly entertaining, page-turning second crime novel featuring ultra-cool con man and thief Rob Rivers. In this worthy and wickedly enjoyable sequel to the critically acclaimed Criminal Paradise, Rob and his associate in crime, the “talented wheelman” Reggie, have been lured by a most attractive prize: a pink diamond necklace worth a quarter of a million dollars, belonging to the beautiful Southern California socialite Evelyn Evermore. The duo plans to make it theirs, but another person is pursuing the same goal - the not-so-holy spiritual guru Baba Raba, a fraud who has his chubby fingers involved in a real estate venture wants to use the diamonds to finance his stake in it.
Rob and Reggie go from experiencing the life of the rich and famous, staying in the most fabulous hotels in Southern California like Indian Wells (originally built by Desi Arnaz, Jr.) and the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort and Spa, to living in a flophouse with three disreputable characters whom Rob compares to the Three Stooges. The flophouse provides cover when the heat gets too heavy for awhile and they come under the suspicion of a detective. The three flophouse roomies - Budge, Candyman, and Pete - add a touch of humor, and the Moe-like self-styled Captain Pete later adds a complication to the plot and Rob and Reggie’s plans when he turns on them to team up with Baba Raba.
Rob is more spiritual than his rival for the diamond necklace, the Baby Huey-sized Baba Raba. He has been a student of yoga in the past and has a deep respect for its teachings. Though a thief, he believes he (like all thieves) have a role to play in the Grand Scheme of Things: by relieving people of their material valuables, he also relieves them of unnecessary burdens hindering their spiritual growth and potentially damaging their karma. As to how he rationalizes the fact that “Being a criminal is my karma,” he offers this explanation:
”There were some moral issues, for sure, but I’d dealt with most of them. What I
did hurt people sometimes, but so did the actions of most other professions, one way
or the other. Bankers with their loan-shark interest rates and foreclosures, lawyers with
their sharp practices and subpoenas. The worlds of business and government were
packed like a college student’s Volkswagen with crooked connivers who, unlike me,
topped their sundae of sins with the pickled cherry of hypocrisy. I knew I was a bad
guy, and tried to be as nice about it as I could. They thought they were good, which
gave them license to be ruthless as hell.
Evelyn has gotten herself wrapped up in Baba Raba’s ashram and group of religious devotees because he has told her that he knows what has happened to her missing daughter and her daughter’s child, and that he can help her be reunited with them - for a small fee, of course. The fees increase in both their amounts and frequency, and though he reveals tantalizing details to Evelyn that seemingly could only come from having had contact with her daughter, he never fulfills his promise to reunite them.
Rob, knowing a scam when he sees one, realizes that Baba Raba is leading Evelyn on. His softer side makes him want to try to expose Baba Raba’s schemes and help Evelyn learn what really happened to her daughter and grandchild. He’s one of a chain of literary criminals who, though well-versed in larceny, also has a heart of gold. He still wants the necklace for himself, but he’s also motivated by revenge. He wants Baba Raba to be stopped before he ruins the lives of more people, like Evelyn and the strung-out women who turn tricks for him in the belief that they’re practicing tantric yoga and advancing their spirituality.
Steven M. Thomas has been compared to such authors as Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen, but he has a unique style all his own. It’s sort of strange to find yourself rooting for a criminal, but everything’s relative (how else to explain the serial killer Dexter’s popularity?). Criminal Karma is a fun, delightfully twisted read that’ll leave you looking forward to the next book in what I hope will be a long series of Rob River’s adventures and misadventures.