An honorable thief in glossy Orange County strays from his business plan when a restaurant heist leads to the discovery of a sex-slave business.
First-time novelist Thomas digs under the gleaming surface of that golden land between San Diego and Los Angeles and finds a fair amount of rot. The hero and narrator is career criminal Robert Rivers, a reformed alcoholic haunted by the memory of the daughter he lost in his drinking days. Now middle-aged and level-headed, he’s settled into a nice life knocking off various businesses with his friend and partner Switch. Switch, however, may be getting ready to go legit. His girlfriend Melanie is with child, and he’s saved enough from their heists to start thinking about an honest job. Then a routine restaurant robbery throws everything off kilter for the partners. The Cow Town steak house they stick up has way too much cash on the premises: $20,000, in a box containing a haunting photograph of an abused Vietnamese girl. Rivers, whose careful MO normally has him miles away from the scene of the crime immediately and permanently, can’t resist snooping around to find out who the girl is and why she was so battered. His inquiries quickly lead to the discovery of a sex-slave business operated by Lewis McFadden, the hulking, sadistic, half-Korean owner of Cow Town and a number of other local eateries. Switch is not happy about the investigation and tries to stay out, but Reggie, the outlaw who taught Rivers the basics of the crime business, shows up in town, eager to get into the action. The old chums break into McFadden’s house looking for loot and for Song, the girl in the photo, and find both. Repulsed by McFadden’s evil business, Rivers sets out to ruin him, falling in love with Song and putting all his associates in mortal danger.
The criminal-as-detective gimmick works. This is a good start.