I admit, I have a bit of a thing for heist novels. I grew up reading the Artemis Fowl series, and love Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. Many heist novels seem to follow certain tropes, however, and in Simon R. Green’s The Best Thing You Can Steal, these tropes are on full display. The book, which takes place in London, follows Gideon Sable, or a guy who claims to be Gideon Sable, as he leads a heist against Fredric Hammer with a crew people devised mostly of people Hammer has wronged in the past. It’s a fast read at only 186 pages, and the plot sticks closely to the heist without deviance, which makes it great for examining its structure. What follows is an analysis of the parts of the book, with some spoilers.
Gideon feels a bit like the stereotypical rogue character at times. He’s described at one point as “trouble in a black leather jacket” (Green 9) by an associate and has a lot of tricks up his sleeve. He’s portrayed as the Robinhood type, who makes sure to steal only from people he feels deserve it. In my experience, this trait seems to be fairly common in this type of novel, perhaps because it makes the protagonist more likable. Would we, readers, want to support a character who tears apart others’ lives for the fun of it? Perhaps we relate well to the Robinhood narrative also because it feels especially relevant in our capitalistic society.
Besides Gideon, the other characters fit into fairly conventional roles. The one female character, Annie Anybody, is the seductress, which doesn’t necessarily make her a bad character, but still feels a bit tired. (Please occupy this position with someone who is not a woman or have more female characters with other talents) There’s the guy who exists to beat up the group’s enemies and the person with excellent stealth abilities – who in this instance is a ghost, which is rather fun. There is a character with the more unfamiliar role, aptly known as the Wild Card, who just exists to make sure the group is unpredictable with his mysterious abilities. Considering the heist follows a strict schedule, it’s unclear whether he accomplishes this, though he comes in handy for when the heist goes inevitably wrong, which we will discuss later.
Gathering the Crew
At least a third of the novel is dedicated to the gathering of the crew, where we learn their stories and watch as they unite. The book leans heavily on the fact that they’re a group of outsiders, who come together to combine their outsider powers and take down the successful, non-outsider. Again, this trope probably appears so often because it speaks to American society. (Many people who are labelled successful people seem to have certain things in common. Hmmm…. What could those things be?) The question raised by the outsider trope concerns its end goal: does the group want to lose their outsider status and become ingrained into the status-quo, or to change the world?
Oh no, the Heist!
Heists never go right. That’s just how it works. Even when the characters are successful, something in their plan always goes wrong, creating a thrilling sequence where we worry for our protagonists’ lives. Would the book be less suspenseful without this? It’s hard to say.
The (Sometimes) inevitable plot twist
Half the time when the heist goes wrong, however, the books reveal that it actually hasn’t! That this was the protagonist’s plan all along! This trope, at least for me, is either exciting or extremely irritating, depending on my mood. Eventually, you just come to expect it and it isn’t surprising anymore. Maybe it still exists because it can be fun to look forward to it. You can spend the book searching for clues as to what this secret plan could be. I suppose it adds in some mystery.
The Best Thing You Can Steal follows a similar path to other books like it but isn’t necessarily worse off for it. With some fun magic items and abilities, there’s some interesting twists and an alternative London to explore. If you’re looking for a quick read that follows a comfortable pattern, consider giving it a try.