Ducking, diving and irresistibly audacious conniving — there’s a reason the best-told heist stories are hard to resist. From the enduring popularity of the Oceans movies, to UK TV hit Hustle, heist stories typically offer an intoxicating blend of heady hustle, grit and glamour, often also mixed with a sense of revenge and seeking just desserts. And the same goes for on-the-page action, as revealed in this Collection of the best books about heists.
Before diving into an overview of said books, let’s kick off with a summary of what we’re looking for in a hot heist novel. Essentially, heist novels are a crime sub-genre. That said, in the spirit of their subject matter, they often break genre boundaries. While mystery or detective novels have the “whodunnit?” question at their heart, heist novels posit an altogether different question i.e. “how did they do it?”, with the “it” usually referring to an against-the-odds-robbery — the more outlandish and high-stakes, the better.
In the build-up of a good heist story, you’ll often see a crew brought together by a leader — an all-seeing mastermind who’s identified exactly why this seemingly mismatched bunch of individuals will work well together. An architect of the entire outlandish plan who knows why their newly assembled team will be motivated to do a good job. Of course, the fact a heist squad typically includes very different kinds of people creates tension-creating conflict, with the threat of discord, dissent and betrayal, and plenty of opportunity for comedy, too.
That’s certainly true of the tale that sparked this Collection of the best books about heists. Namely, Alex Hay’s The Housekeepers — a LoveReading Star Book, no less. Set in London’s well-to-do Park Lane in 1905 this entertaining debut dazzles as bright as the kind of diamond a bunch of hustlers might long to get their hands on. When 35-year-old housekeeper Dinah King is sacked after years of committed service, she hatches an audaciously elaborate plan to exact revenge on her new mistress — the impossibly vain Miss de Vries. Playing on Miss de Vries’ puffed-up pride, Dinah assembles her team from associates who also have axes to grind. Hands-down hilarious as a gaggle of female grifters attempt the seemingly impossible, The Housekeepers also sees the women set out to right a whole lot of wrongs.
Another personal favourite is The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope. Set in Washington in the 1920s, this is another historic heist novel, but it’s no ordinary example of either genre. It mixes Neil Gaiman-esque magic with real-life resonance as it reveals racism through the extraordinary story of a woman named Clara. Being born with the gift of talking to Enigmas (spirits), Clara is also indebted to the spirits, which means she’s compelled to accept a deal with powerful Empress Enigma in order to be free. In the tradition of all the best heist stories, Clara gathers fabulously larger-than-life characters to pull off a very necessary robbery.
Colson Whitehead’s Harlem Shuffle also deserves special mention. At once a rip-roaring crime novel, a family saga, and a story of race and power, Harlem sits centre stage alongside an unforgettable cast of characters. The same neighbourhood features in Chester Himes’ classic Cotton Comes to Harlem in which a con man has swindled the poor folk of Harlem out of their life savings.
Meanwhile, Michael Crichton’s The Great Train Robbery reels with on-the-rails drama as it tells the true story of a 1855 train heist.
For a classic casino caper, try Michael Connelly’s Void Moon. It sees an ex-con drawn back into her old ways by the prospect of a scheme that sounds too good to pass up.
Another personal favourite, thanks to its marvellously mould-breaking main character, The Little Lady Who Broke All the Rules sees 79-year-old Martha Andersson scheming to escape her care home to rob a bank. The series can’t come more highly recommended.
Love the sound of a heist and fantasy mash-up? Try The Lies of Locke Lamora and Six of Crows. Like we said at the start, heist stories have a habit of breaking boundaries. The same is true of Kirk Wallace-Johnson’s The Feather Thief — not all heists involve trying to get your hands on dollars or diamonds. Into art? You might just adore The Gardner Heist.
Keep reading for more of the best books about heists. If these novels are anything to go by, crime fiction has rarely been more inventive.