Though "paradise" is a common term, it has different definitions. In James Hilton's Lost Horizon it is a land tucked away in the Himalayas where the inhabitants never grow old. To New Yorkers caught up in two rush-hours a day it is sunny Florida. To wet Londoners, Spain's Costa del Sol. Hawaii and the French Riviera qualify.
Painted In The Tropics By Harold Stephens 300 pp, 2013 Wolfenden hardback Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 650 baht
For Christians loosening their mortal coils, heaven. For American Indians, the happy hunting ground. For Muslims, 72 virgins await. For many, it's a reunion with loved ones who have passed.
Then there's the exotic South Seas. Lying in a hammock on a tropical beach, half-dressed lovelies serving your mai tais. According to Nordhoff and Hall's Mutiny On The Bounty and artist Gauguin, this last is true. If you have doubts, go to the South Pacific and see for yourselves. Unlike Western and Eastern women, the Polynesians are in a class of their own. Beautiful. Not argumentative. Ready. Willing.
Theo Meier (born 1908), kicked out of art school for scoffing at his professor's tastes, turning his back on his stuffy Swiss family, convinced that nudes made the best models, booked a passage on a vessel to the South Seas. Yank skipper-author Harold Stephens gives us the details in his biography.
Having met and become friends with Theo, a sizeable portion of Painted In The Tropics comes from Stephens' memory. A good deal is extracts from Theo's diary. There is an index, but no bibliography. Best are the many photos _ of the subject through the years, his succession of wives, friends and models.
The several isles had their points, yet were not quite what he wanted. So he kept travelling. Until he arrived in Bali in the Dutch East Indies. Bingo. For over two decades, it's his home. Topless women galore. The Dutch authorities aren't pleasant with his art, but it sells. Poverty isn't an issue.
Since he comes from a neutral country, Theo isn't interested when the Japanese invade, but they do trash his paintings. No sooner does the Pacific War end than another takes its place. Conceding defeat, the Dutch grant Indonesia independence. And then there's still another war _ against President Sukarno and his communist supporters.
This is too much for Theo, who moves to Thailand. His declining years are spent in Chiang Mai with a Thai wife. He keeps painting until felled by cancer. Painted In The Tropics isn't for prudes. But is for everybody else.
Bear Is Broken By Lachlan Smith 375 pp, 2013 Headline paperback Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 350 baht
Apparently, practitioners of law and medicine aren't up to their necks in work. More than a few with time to spare try their hand at penning works of fiction about their careers. Yet with elements of truth. For the most part, they pose no literary threat to John Grisham or Dr Kathy Reichs.
Alas, a number are unreadable while several are borderline. It is often possible to identify their debut story. It is more complex than needs be, with more twists than a pretzel. Instead of drawing a red herring before us, he or she has a catch of red herrings being dragged in all directions.
Which is this reviewer's impression of Stateside civil rights counsellor Lachlan Smith's Bear Is Broken. Set in San Francisco, it features two brothers. Teddy Maxwell is a hotshot lawyer who keeps winning cases, to the consternation of the police he makes fools of in court.
Leo is his younger brother by 17 years, who has just passed the bar exam. He worships Teddy, not least because of his succession of luscious bedmates. Teddy has more enemies than friends _ including criminals he couldn't get off and mistresses he discarded. Their father is serving a life sentence for killing their mother.
The siblings are having lunch when a stranger comes to their table, shoots Teddy in the head and walks out of the restaurant. The 375-page novel is devoted to whodunit. Leo ("I", "me") is the narrator throughout. The fuzz promptly finger a lowlife Teddy had previously unsuccessfully defended as the gunman.
Conducting his own investigation, Leo comes up with a wide range of suspects. The author contrives to persuade us that each had the motive and opportunity to have pulled the trigger, including women in the guise of men. He throws in a paedophile ring and a search for incriminating sex tapes and blackmail.
Leo seduces one of his brother's nymphomaniacs, or does she seduce him? Either way, she's a suspect. As is her sadistic brother, the father with a closely kept secret, the mother who knows the secret. Either may have murdered to keep it. A professor and a prostitute are also killed. Incidentally, Teddy recovers but is mentally impaired.
If Lachlan Smith continues writing crime thrillers, he should learn to simplify. And, since he's a lawyer, a courtroom drama wouldn't go amiss. As a scrivener, he's a lot to learn.