The Fascinating Charms of a Heist Story

Love reading about high stakes and nail-biting action? Let’s dive into what makes heist stories unique

Book Culture Opinions Recommendations Thriller & Mystery
Masked bandit hangs from ceiling with rope attempting to a pile of books on the ground.

Have you ever heard of the Book Bandit? Back in the 1950s, a man named Stephen Blumberg stole 23,600 books from hundreds of libraries and museums all over the world. No, this isn’t just the plot of a captivating heist novel, but it truly happened in real life! And it did get me thinking: What is it about heist stories that are so intriguing? No matter what age group these stories are written for, these heist stories make for great suspense, problem-solving, and learning a bit of history too.

All Going As Planned (Or Maybe Not)

There is familiarity in a scene during the plan-making process in which characters talk about the different ways that everything could fall apart, or that they might get caught. As a reader, I certainly hope that all goes well, even if I know through different heist stories that it doesn’t always go smoothly (and that conflict helps to build that feeling of suspense). Despite that self-awareness, I am almost always at the edge of my seat or having to put my book down to take a break from the high stakes. For A Million to One by Adiba Jaigirdar, I was rooting for all four main characters to grab The Rubaiyat unscathed, even when I knew that problems would be inevitable as their journey began on the Titanic.

Book cover of A Million to One by Adiba Jaigirdar with all four of the main characters: Josefah, Emilie, Hinnah, and Violet.

POV: Seeing Character Dynamics from Different Points of View

Many heists require teamwork, from computer work to convincing the staff to let them into their establishment. With this in mind, it’s always interesting to see how events unfold through the perspective of different characters. As readers, we have the opportunity to get a glimpse into the minds of the characters, what they think about one another, and even what they think about themselves. In Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li, the story is split into chapters by five different characters: Will, Alex, Lily Daniel, and Irene, which allows these characters to have a voice for themselves and what they experience before, during, and after the heist occurs.

Book cover of Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li with a blue background and a man wearing sunglasses looking at art pieces.

Learning History

For many of the items being stolen, fictional or not, gives a glimpse into the history of the item and the environment in which the characters live. Reading about fictional items might be a way to add to the world-building and learn about the history of the fictional landscape, which could really add to the high stakes that characters are facing. Historical items, like The Mona Lisa in the nonfiction book, The Mona Lisa Vanishes by Nicholas Day, take us back in time to understand the historical value of the item. In this case, Day writes about what happened when The Mona Lisa, who was involved, and the impact of this piece being stolen.

Book Cover of The Mona Lisa Vanishes by Nicholas Day with the top half of Mona Lisa's face shown, and a man stealing the painting and hiding it in his jacket.

There are many different ways to write a heist novel, from different characters, settings, and of course, what’s being stolen. And yet, their similarities in team dynamics or the fear of not wanting characters to get caught continue to bring excitement to the genre.

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