Steven M. Thomas couldn’t ask for more from his first novel “Criminal Paradise.” The book was released in paperback in March after a successful hardback offering last year, and it’s a Best First Novel finalist in the International Thriller Writers’ 2009 Thriller Awards, one of five novels chosen from hundreds of nominations. “Paradise” follows the exploits of career-criminal-turned-detective who tries to break-up a sadistic Costa Mesa restaurant owner’s sex-slave business. Thomas, who graduated from UC Irvine’s highly rated creative writing MFA program in 1999, will have his second novel, “Criminal Karma,” released by Ballantine Books in July.