A book list by Onset & Rime.
This list of books about heists, thieves, and the art of the con is full of exciting stories to give you a thrill. You're sure to find something you like from this wide range of genres.
A Note: Content warnings have been provided where appropriate. Highlight the "invisible" text beside the content warning label to see. Content warnings are not value statements about the books or judgements about the inclusion of any particular content. They are there to give you a heads up on what to be prepared for so you can choose if and/or when a book is right for you.
1) HARLEM SHUFFLE by Colson Whitehead
“[A] novel of heists, shakedowns, and rip-offs set in Harlem in the 1960s”
From the publisher: “To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, [Ray] Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably priced furniture, making a decent life for himself and his family. He and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their second child, and if her parents on Striver’s Row don’t approve of him or their cramped apartment across from the subway tracks, it’s still home.
Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his façade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger all the time.
Cash is tight, especially with all those installment-plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace, Ray doesn’t ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweler downtown who doesn’t ask questions, either.
Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa—the “Waldorf of Harlem”—and volunteers Ray’s services as the fence. The heist doesn’t go as planned; they rarely do. Now Ray has a new clientele, one made up of shady cops, vicious local gangsters, two-bit pornographers, and other assorted Harlem lowlifes.”
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Mystery
Content Warnings: racism, racial slurs, colourism, police brutality
2) THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY by Michael Crichton
A fictionalized account of the Great Gold Robbery of 1855
From the publisher: “In teeming Victorian London, where lavish wealth and appalling poverty live side by side, Edward Pierce charms the most prominent of the well-to-do as he cunningly orchestrates the crime of the century. Who would suspect that a gentleman of breeding could mastermind the daring theft of a fortune in gold? Who could predict the consequences of making the extraordinary robbery aboard the pride of England's industrial era, the mighty steam locomotive? Based on fact, as lively as legend, and studded with all the suspense and style of a modern fiction master, here is a classic caper novel set a decade before the age of dynamite--yet nonetheless explosive...”
Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Thriller, Mystery
Content Warnings: racial slurs
3) DEATH PREFERS BLONDES by Caleb Roehrig
“[A] high-stakes YA thriller featuring a rebel heiress and butt-kicking, jewel-thieving drag queens”
From the publisher: “Teenage socialite Margo Manning leads a dangerous double life. By day, she dodges the paparazzi while soaking up California sunshine. By night, however, she dodges security cameras and armed guards, pulling off high-stakes cat burglaries with a team of flamboyant young men. In and out of disguise, she’s in all the headlines.
But then Margo’s personal life takes a sudden, dark turn, and a job to end all jobs lands her crew in deadly peril. Overnight, everything she’s ever counted on is put at risk. Backs against the wall, the resourceful thieves must draw on their special skills to survive. But can one rebel heiress and four kickboxing drag queens withstand the slings and arrows of truly outrageous fortune? Or will a mounting sea of troubles end them—for good?”
Genre(s): Mystery, Young Adult
4) THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA by Scott Lynch
Locke Lamora and his band of fellow con-artists are caught up in a murderous game…
From the publisher: “An orphan’s life is harsh—and often short—in the mysterious island city of Camorr. But young Locke Lamora dodges death and slavery, becoming a thief under the tutelage of a gifted con artist. As leader of the band of light-fingered brothers known as the Gentleman Bastards, Locke is soon infamous, fooling even the underworld’s most feared ruler. But in the shadows lurks someone still more ambitious and deadly. Faced with a bloody coup that threatens to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the enemy at his own brutal game—or die trying.”
This is the first book in the Gentleman Bastard series. The second and third books have also been published (Red Seas Under Red Skies and The Republic of Thieves, respectively).
Genre(s): Fantasy, Adventure
Content Warnings: torture, animal cruelty, mentioned rape, mentioned suicide
5) SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo
“Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist.”
From the publisher: “Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone. . . .
A convict with a thirst for revenge
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager
A runaway with a privileged past
A spy known as the Wraith
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes
Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.”
This is the first book in the fully published Six of Crows duology. The story concludes in the second volume, Crooked Kingdom. You might also be interested in the other Grishaverse novels by Leigh Bardugo: the original trilogy beginning with Shadow and Bone, set before the Six of Crows duology; and the Nikolai duology beginning with King of Scars, set after the Six of Crows duology. It is not necessary to read the original trilogy before reading Six of Crows.
Genre(s): Fantasy, Adventure, Young Adult
Content Warnings: addiction (drug and gambling), mentions of child trafficking
6) THE GILDED WOLVES by Roshani Chokshi
“[A] found family [of] six societal outcasts [is] tasked with stealing a powerful artifact that can alter their lives for the better, but at the cost of breaking the world.”
From the publisher: “It's 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.
To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.
Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history--but only if they can stay alive.”
This is the first book in a fully published trilogy. It is followed by The Silvered Serpents and The Bronzed Beasts.
Genre(s): Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Content Warnings: racism, mention of suicide, ableism, homophobia, child abuse, animal cruelty
7) IRON CAST by Destiny Soria
A historical fantasy set in Boston, 1919, centering on the lives of two skilled young women.
From the publisher: “In 1919, Ada Navarra—the intrepid daughter of immigrants—and Corinne Wells—a spunky, devil-may-care heiress—make an unlikely pair. But at the Cast Iron nightclub in Boston, anything and everything is possible. At night, on stage together, the two best friends, whose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art, weave magic under the employ of Johnny Dervish, the club’s owner and a notorious gangster. By day, Ada and Corinne use these same skills to con the city’s elite in an attempt to keep the club afloat.
When a “job” goes awry and Ada is imprisoned, she realizes they’re on the precipice of danger. Only Corinne—her partner in crime—can break her out of Haversham Asylum. But once Ada is out, they face betrayal at every turn.”
Genre(s): Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Content Warnings: racism, forced institutionalization
8) THE FEATHER THIEF by Kirk Wallace Johnson
“[A] true-crime adventure and a thought-provoking exploration of the human drive to possess natural beauty”
From the publisher: “On a cool June evening in 2009, after performing a concert at London’s Royal Academy of Music, twenty-year-old American flautist Edwin Rist boarded a train for a suburban outpost of the British Museum of Natural History. Home to one of the largest ornithological collections in the world, the Tring museum was full of rare bird specimens whose gorgeous feathers were worth staggering amounts of money to the men who shared Edwin’s obsession: the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying. Once inside the museum, the champion fly-tier grabbed hundreds of bird skins–some collected 150 years earlier by a contemporary of Darwin’s, Alfred Russel Wallace, who’d risked everything to gather them–and escaped into the darkness.
Two years later, Kirk Wallace Johnson was waist high in a river in northern New Mexico when his fly-fishing guide told him about the heist. He was soon consumed by the strange case of the feather thief. What would possess a person to steal dead birds? Had Edwin paid the price for his crime? What became of the missing skins? In his search for answers, Johnson was catapulted into a years-long, worldwide investigation. The gripping story of a bizarre and shocking crime, and one man’s relentless pursuit of justice, The Feather Thief is also a fascinating exploration of obsession, and man’s destructive instinct to harvest the beauty of nature.”
Genre(s): Non-Fiction, True Crime, Natural History
Content Warnings: ableism
9) FLAWLESS by Scott Selby and Greg Campbell
“[A] real-life Ocean’s Eleven—a combination of diamond history, journalistic reportage, and riveting true-crime story”
From the publisher: “On February 15, 2003, a group of thieves broke into an allegedly airtight vault in the international diamond capital of Antwerp, Belgium and made off with over $108 million dollars worth of diamonds and other valuables. They did so without tripping an alarm or injuring a single guard in the process.
Although the crime was perfect, the getaway was not. The police zeroed in on a band of professional thieves fronted by Leonardo Notarbartolo, a dapper Italian who had rented an office in the Diamond Center and clandestinely cased its vault for over two years. The “who” of the crime had been answered, but the “how” remained largely a mystery.
Enter Scott Andrew Selby, a Harvard Law grad and diamond expert, and Greg Campbell, author of Blood Diamonds, who undertook a global goose chase to uncover the true story behind the daring heist. Tracking the threads of the story throughout Europe—from Belgium to Italy, in seedy cafés and sleek diamond offices—the authors sorted through an array of conflicting details, divergent opinions and incongruous theories to put together the puzzle of what actually happened that Valentine’s Day weekend.”
Genre(s): Non-Fiction, True Crime