Raise your hand if you yell at television shows and movies. [raises hand] I can’t help it, when I see someone doing something ridiculous, I have to say, “That’s a bad idea!” Which is silly because if these characters didn’t make these bad decisions, there wouldn’t be much of a story. But I do it anyway. One of my favorite “That’s a bad idea!” genres is “one last job.” You know, where a criminal comes out of retirement for one last caper, and it’s always the one that goes horribly wrong. Actually, I just love caper novels in general. Which is why I had fun creating this list of ten great books about crimes gone wrong.
Whether they are stealing gems, priceless antiques, or magic, the characters in these books come up against all kinds of trouble while trying to commit what many assumed to be easy or perfect crimes. They may be professionals, but they can’t account for every little thing. (And of course, they are breaking the law, so it isn’t supposed to be easy for them.) Sometimes the thieves are the heroes of the book, sometimes they’re the villains, and of course, there’s plenty of gray area in between. And all of the books on this list are recent titles, so you should have no problem finding them at your local bookstore or library. (But please don’t steal them.)
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
In a magical alternate Paris of the 19th century, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie is a wealthy man and treasure hunter. But there is one treasure that eludes him: his family’s true place in a secret society. When Séverin is offered the chance to regain this place in return for pulling off an elaborate heist, he gathers his motley crew of professionals and begins scheming.
Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby
This is an excellent recent example of the “one last job” genre. Bug Montage is a mechanic and family man now, but he used to be the best wheelman on the East Coast. Times are tough financially for Bug and his garage, and when a former acquaintance contacts him about what should be an easy job robbing a jewelry store, he decides to go for it. Spoiler: they’re never easy.
Uptown Thief by Aya de León
Marisol Rivera is the owner of a Lower East Side women’s health clinic. But it costs a lot of money, so she’s also the owner of an escort service for New York City’s elite. And that is actually the perfect cover for her real motives: she robs from the rich to give to her clinic. But this modern-day Robin Hood can’t expect to keep up the con forever. And when trouble comes her way, she has to decide who she’ll protect and how far she’ll go to save the day.
Spellhacker by M.K. England
Once upon a time in Kyrkarta, magic was a widely available and easily used resource. But then an earthquake caused the magical destruction of thousands and a corporation took over the regulation of magic, to the point where hardly anyone could afford it. So Diz and her three best friends have carved out their living siphoning magic and selling it. But when they encounter a dangerous new strain of magic, they realize they’re in over their heads — but how do they climb back out?
Ghostman by Roger Hobbs
And the beginning of this book has one of the most amazing action scenes in a novel. A casino has been robbed and the thief is killed after the job goes horribly wrong. But another robber gets away with the loot. What that robber doesn’t know is that the bag is set to explode in 48 hours. Jack, a jack of all trades criminal, is called in to locate the cash and the robber before that happens. He hopes it goes better than his last job…
The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
The item stolen in this book is not jewels or cash or gold, it’s a plot. Author and professor Jacob Finch Bonner thinks he has pulled off a victimless crime when he steals the plot of his novel from a former student who died alone. But someone out there knows that Jacob didn’t come up with the idea for his new bestselling book, and they’ve started threatening him with exposure. To keep that from happening, Jake goes looking for his harasser, but instead learns some unsettling things about his former student.
Picnic In the Ruins by Todd Robert Petersen
The thieves in this excellent darkly comedic novel are of the bad variety. And also the inept variety. And, because of the botched job they pull while robbing a house of old maps where they accidentally kill its occupant, anthropologist Sophia Shepard is pulled into their mayhem. As they search for hidden treasure, an even more dangerous criminal searches for all of them.
Death Prefers Blondes by Caleb Roehrig
Margo Manning is a teenage socialite who has it all: money, a glamorous life online and off, paparazzi following her around. But she’s bored. So she and her friends dress up like cat burglars and commit robberies at night. The thrill of thieving is exhilarating, but then Margo and their friends steal from the wrong person and the reality of their situation turns very serious and very dangerous.
Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte
A skilled thief named Keralie and an upstanding citizen named Varin in Quadara meet when she steals a package from him. It seemed harmless enough on her end, and annoying, on his. But this act leads to them getting pulled into a conspiracy that leads to the death of all four of their country’s queens. In order to extricate themselves from the danger, they’ll have to partner up to stay alive.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
And last, but not least is this excellent novel that brilliantly illustrates the repercussions of any crime, big or small. Ray Carney is a mostly honest furniture salesman, who makes a little money on the side fencing small items. Yes, it’s illegal, but the he way he sees it, he’s nowhere near as bad as his thieving father. But Ray’s soft spot for his inept criminal cousin is about to get him into hot water with Harlem’s most dangerous men.
If you love crime and mystery books and are looking for more to read, be sure to check out 20 of the Best Mystery Books You’ve Never Heard Of, 10 of the Most Unique Crime Books for Your TBR, and 19 of the Best New True Crime Books Out in 2021.