Since I was a young lass I’ve always enjoyed books about criminals. I don’t know if it’s because I was a petty thief in a past life, or because I’m destined to steal the moon in this one. The point is I like me some criminals, and I love me some books about criminals. And let me be clear that I enjoy books about criminals of all ages, be they middle grade or young adult. I’d even read a book about a 98 year old man robbing people. I haven’t found one yet, but I suppose it’s only a matter of time.
I know I’m not the only one out there who adores books with morally ambiguous characters. Be they thieves, assassins, or con-men, so I’ve decided to compose a comprehensive list of criminal characters and the books they hail from so that we can all enjoy their dastardly deeds together.
I’ve decided to compose this list with the least criminal like characters at the top and most at the bottom, we love a good organization system.
Okay, so I don’t expect that many people to have heard of this one, because it’s sort of old. It was originally published in 1967, and I’ve only read it because my dad gave me his copies from when he was a kid. Now Tom Dennis Fitzgerald a.k.a “The Great Brain” isn’t technically a criminal, but I definitely used to look up to him when I was younger. Nobody can swindle people out of their prized possessions like The Great Brain. The book is narrated by Tom’s younger brother-John Dennis Fitzgerald-which definitely helps cement the hero worship vibe. One of the things that I really liked about this book, besides for all the incredible outsmartiness that goes on, is that a lot of it is based on the authors-John Dennis Fitzgerald-real childhood.
Next up we’ve got some books with thieves since regular run-of-the-mill con-men just won’t do. I’ve always admired thieves in books, (even though I know it’s illegal and all) because the thieves always have so much talent? Like, have you ever tried to pick someone’s pocket or pick a lock? It’s so hard!
All that needs to be said is in the title. This book is about a thief. And there’s magic involved. The Magic Thief tells the story of Connwear, a street-rat (love me a good street-rat, give me all the homeless children), who pickpockets a wizard and ends up becoming his apprentice. Conn is one of my favorite main characters ever, he’s a badass pickpocket and lockpick and is just super mellow about all of it? Like there’s no I’m a bad guy kind of thievery about Conn, he’s more of an ‘I’m really hungry so I’m going to steal from you.’ Sort of thief, and I respect that. He’s like Aladdin if Aladdin was young and a wizard.
I think we can all agree that this is a classic. And if you’ve never heard of the Thief Lord please leave. (Jk please don’t) The Thief Lord is about a group of street children in Venice (yesss, my beloved street children) who steal from people (obvs) and live in a huge abandoned Theatre. Which is real estate goals, to be honest. The band of street children is led by Scipio, our benevolent criminal mastermind, who I should make clear, is also a child. Now I can’t really say anything more, because spoilers, but it’s a fantastic book and ya’ll should read it.
I could not compose a list of books with criminals and not include Artemis Fowl. Artemis Fowl is the coolest child genius ever. And he’s Irish. And rich. And slightly cruel. And he wears suits. So Artemis is your average neglected rich kid, and like every other neglected child, he wants to find something to do with his time. So, he decides to research the supposedly non-existent fairies, and kidnap one of them so that he could ransom them back for some cold hard cash. Obviously. There’s an entire series of books, with each one being more criminally morally ambiguous than the last. Also, Disney is making a movie of it! I pray every night that they do it justice because I cannot have another one of my childhood favorites destroyed by Hollywood.
Now it’s time for the young adult criminal books! These are slightly more fun, because there are some murdery favorites in this part of the list that would just not do in a middle-grade book. I’m always awed that authors manage to make us like characters in books who we normally would be disgusted by in real life? No way I would be rooting for an assassin normally, I mean probably not, but give me their tragic back story and have them have a sense of humor, and I’m automatically hooked.
This book is like if Oceans 11 was a book, but instead of 11 people there were 6, and instead of adults they were all teenagers, and instead of it being modern it takes place in the Grishaverse, and instead of it being called Oceans 11, it’d be called Brekker’s Randomly Selected Crew of People. But yes, who doesn’t want to read about broody, murdery, trigger happy teenagers who want to rob a place to get paid the big bucks? Six of Crows is filled with fantastic characters, and like only one of them has an actual conscience (*cough* Matthias), it’s wonderful trust me.
What says criminal better than gambling? I hope I’m not the only one who automatically associates Vegas style gambling with awe-worthy criminals (this association may or may not be due to influence from movies like 21, Ocean’s 11, and The Sting). Imagine a city that’s sort of like Las Vegas, but with more crime and gangs. Levi Glaysier-conman and street lord supreme-is in over his head after he makes a few bad deals and gets into debt with the wrong people. When Enne Salta-a proper young lady in training-comes to the “sin city” in search of her guardian her only lead for help being Levi Glaysier, she has no choice but to agree that the only people who can help them are each other. Levi Glaysier and Enne Salta are criminal goals, and I’m so psyched for King of Fools, which comes out in April. So, if you haven’t read Ace of Shades yet get to it so that you’ll finish in time for the sequel.
I read this series after seeing an Instagram post about it from Cait @ Paper Fury, and reading it is one of the best things I’ve ever done. We’ve talked about thieves, we’ve talked about gang leaders, we’ve talked about conmen, but we have not talked about smugglers. Jess Brightwell, the main character of this series, comes from the illustrious book smuggling family of the Brightwells. In a world where the Library controls what people can and can’t read, and where the owning of original books is strictly forbidden, the business of smuggling books is a thriving one. Jess is a do whatever it takes sort of criminal who’s totally chill with using the people around him for his own benefit, which is extremely admirable. Then you throw in Jess’s identical twin brother Brendan, who is even more morally ambiguous than Jess and you’ve got the bestest smuggling duo the world has ever seen.
One word, MURDER. Ever wonder how assassins become assassins? Well, they go to school, obviously. Mia Corvere is your regular run of the mill aspiring assassin who wants to become one of the elite assassins of the Red Church. Mia and her fellow students are *dying* (haha get it) to get chosen as one the assassins, but first, they must pass the tests set out by their instructors and avoid getting killed by the mysterious killer who’s on the loose while they’re at it. Also, did I mention that Mia is doing all this because she wants revenge? Such an admirable motivator, and honestly, Mia is an inspiration to all with her dedication to her studies.