The 20 Best Caper Fiction Books

The caper fiction books genre is a thrilling and often light-hearted subset of crime fiction that revolves around elaborate heists, cunning schemes, and intricate plans executed by a group of skilled individuals. Originating in the early 20th century, the caper genre has since captivated audiences with its blend of suspense, wit, and ingenuity.

At the heart of a caper story lies the meticulously crafted plan, often devised by a charismatic mastermind who recruits a diverse team of specialists, each with their own unique talents and expertise. These characters, ranging from safecrackers to hackers, bring their skills to the table as they work together to pull off the ultimate score, whether it be a bank robbery, art theft, or casino heist.

What distinguishes the caper genre is its emphasis on wit and cleverness over violence and brutality. While there may be tense moments and unexpected obstacles, the protagonists typically rely on their intellect and resourcefulness to outsmart their adversaries and overcome challenges.

Classic examples of the caper genre include films like “Ocean’s Eleven” and “The Italian Job,” as well as literary works such as Donald E. Westlake’s Dortmunder series and Lawrence Block’s “Burglar” novels. These stories entertain audiences with their intricate plots, memorable characters, and exhilarating twists, making the caper genre a beloved and enduring aspect of fiction.

Here are twenty fun caper fiction books for you to enjoy:

“Enter the Saint” by Leslie Charteris, 1930

In “Enter the Saint,” the first installment of the Simon Templar series, the enigmatic thief known as the Saint embarks on a daring heist to recover a stolen diamond necklace. As the Saint navigates the criminal underworld of 1930s London, he encounters a cast of colorful characters and faces off against ruthless adversaries.

Charteris’ novel is a classic example of the caper genre, with its charming protagonist and fast-paced plot. The Saint is a suave and charismatic anti-hero, and his clever schemes and daring escapades captivate readers from the very first page. Charteris’ writing is crisp and engaging, with plenty of wit and humor to spare. “Enter the Saint” is a timeless caper that showcases Charteris’ talent for crafting thrilling and entertaining adventures.

These novels demonstrate the diverse range of styles and approaches within the caper genre, from comedic romps to gritty thrillers. Each author brings their own unique voice and perspective to the genre, creating stories that are as entertaining as they are unforgettable.

“The Mask of Dimitrios” by Eric Ambler, 1939

“The Mask of Dimitrios” follows Charles Latimer, a retired English academic turned amateur detective, as he investigates the mysterious death of notorious criminal Dimitrios Makropoulos. As Latimer delves deeper into Dimitrios’s past, he uncovers a web of intrigue involving smuggling, espionage, and political corruption.

Ambler’s novel is a classic example of the caper genre, with its intricate plot and atmospheric setting. The story is filled with suspense and intrigue, and Ambler’s writing is evocative and immersive. Charles Latimer is a compelling protagonist, and his journey of discovery is both thrilling and thought-provoking. “The Mask of Dimitrios” is a gripping caper that highlights Ambler’s talent for crafting compelling mysteries with a noirish edge.

“Modesty Blaise” by Peter O’Donnell, 1965

In “Modesty Blaise,” the eponymous character, a former criminal mastermind turned secret agent, is recruited by the British government to stop a diamond heist. Alongside her loyal sidekick, Willie Garvin, Modesty embarks on a thrilling adventure filled with danger, deception, and daring escapes.

O’Donnell’s novel stands out in the caper genre for its combination of espionage and classic heist tropes. The plot is fast-paced and action-packed, with plenty of twists and turns to keep readers on the edge of their seats. Modesty Blaise is a compelling and resourceful protagonist, and her dynamic partnership with Willie Garvin adds depth to the story. Overall, “Modesty Blaise” is a captivating caper that showcases O’Donnell’s talent for crafting exciting and suspenseful adventures.

“Hard Rain Falling” by Don Carpenter, 1966

In “Hard Rain Falling,” Jack Levitt, a young drifter with a troubled past, gets involved in a series of petty crimes and robberies as he struggles to survive on the streets of Portland, Oregon. Along the way, Jack forms a bond with another young criminal named Billy, and together they navigate the dangerous underworld of 1960s America.

Carpenter’s novel is a gritty and atmospheric exploration of crime and redemption, with elements of the caper genre woven throughout. “Hard Rain Falling” offers a raw and unflinching portrayal of life on the margins, with complex characters and a compelling narrative that stays with the reader long after the final page. Carpenter’s writing is evocative and powerful, capturing the harsh realities of poverty, violence, and despair.

“The Anderson Tapes” by Lawrence Sanders, 1970

“The Anderson Tapes” follows career criminal John Anderson as he plans a major heist in a luxury apartment building in New York City. Unbeknownst to Anderson, his every move is being recorded by various surveillance devices, leading to a thrilling cat-and-mouse game with law enforcement and rival criminals.

Sanders’ novel is a classic caper with a modern twist. The plot is tightly paced, with Sanders expertly building suspense as the heist unfolds and the stakes escalate. Anderson is a compelling anti-hero, and his interactions with the colorful cast of characters add depth to the story. “The Anderson Tapes” is a gripping caper that showcases Sanders’ talent for crafting tense and suspenseful thrillers.

“The Hot Rock” by Donald E. Westlake, 1970

In “The Hot Rock,” John Dortmunder and his team are hired to steal a priceless diamond from a museum. However, their heist goes disastrously wrong, and the diamond keeps slipping through their fingers as they encounter one obstacle after another. Their attempts to recover the jewel lead them on a series of increasingly absurd escapades, including multiple break-ins, car chases, and encounters with eccentric characters.

Westlake’s novel shines as a prime example of the caper genre. The plot is filled with clever twists and turns, keeping readers guessing until the very end. The characters are colorful and memorable, each bringing their own unique skills and quirks to the table. Westlake’s writing is sharp and witty, perfectly capturing the humor and excitement of the heist genre. Overall, “The Hot Rock” is a rollicking adventure that showcases Westlake’s talent for crafting

“The Great Train Robbery” by Michael Crichton, 1975

“The Great Train Robbery” recounts the true story of the infamous 1855 theft of a shipment of gold from a moving train in Victorian England. Led by the charismatic mastermind Edward Pierce, a group of thieves meticulously plan and execute the daring heist, overcoming numerous obstacles and outwitting the authorities at every turn.

Crichton’s novel is a meticulously researched and thrilling recreation of one of history’s most audacious crimes. “The Great Train Robbery” combines elements of historical fiction with the suspense and intrigue of a classic caper, resulting in a gripping and entertaining read. Crichton’s attention to detail and skillful pacing make for a truly immersive experience, as readers are transported back in time to witness the daring exploits of the daring thieves.

“The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling” by Lawrence Block, 1979

In this installment of the Bernie Rhodenbarr series, professional burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr finds himself embroiled in a murder mystery when he discovers a dead body and a valuable stamp collection. As Bernie investigates the crime, he becomes entangled in a web of deception and danger, leading to a daring heist and a thrilling conclusion.

Block’s novel excels as a caper due to its engaging plot and well-drawn characters. Bernie Rhodenbarr is a charming and likable protagonist, and his witty narration adds a layer of humor to the story. The plot is full of clever twists and turns, and Block keeps the suspense building until the very end. Overall, “The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling” is a clever and entertaining caper that showcases Block’s skill as a writer of crime fiction.

“A Shock to the System” by Simon Brett, 1984

“A Shock to the System” follows Graham Marshall, a frustrated executive who snaps after being passed over for a promotion. In a fit of rage, Graham murders his boss and stages the death to look like an accident. As Graham revels in his newfound power, he hatches a series of increasingly audacious schemes to further his own ambitions.

Brett’s novel is a darkly comic caper that explores the consequences of unchecked ambition and corporate greed. The plot is filled with twists and turns, as Graham’s actions spiral out of control and he becomes entangled in a web of deceit and betrayal. Brett’s writing is sharp and incisive, with a satirical edge that skewers the excesses of corporate culture. “A Shock to the System” is a clever and provocative caper that showcases Brett’s talent for blending suspense with social commentary.

“The Silver Pigs” by Lindsey Davis, 1989

“The Silver Pigs” introduces readers to Marcus Didius Falco, a private investigator in ancient Rome. In this installment of the series, Falco is hired to track down a missing girl who is connected to a shipment of stolen silver ingots, leading him on a dangerous journey through the seedy underbelly of Rome’s criminal underworld.

Davis’s novel is a historical mystery with elements of the caper genre. The plot is richly detailed, with Davis bringing ancient Rome to life with vivid descriptions and meticulous research. Falco is a charming and resourceful protagonist, and his wry sense of humor adds a layer of wit to the story. “The Silver Pigs” is a compelling and entertaining caper that showcases Davis’s talent for blending history, mystery, and adventure.

“Skin Tight” by Carl Hiaasen, 1989

In “Skin Tight,” former detective Mick Stranahan finds himself embroiled in a murder plot when a vengeful plastic surgeon targets him for revenge. As Mick investigates the conspiracy, he teams up with a colorful cast of characters to outwit his would-be killers and bring them to justice.

Hiaasen’s novel is a darkly humorous caper filled with eccentric characters and bizarre twists. The plot is fast-paced and unpredictable, with Hiaasen’s trademark blend of satire and suspense. Mick Stranahan is a compelling protagonist, and his wry wit and resourcefulness add depth to the story. “Skin Tight” is a rollicking caper that highlights Hiaasen’s talent for crafting offbeat and entertaining mysteries.

“Get Shorty” by Elmore Leonard, 1990

“Get Shorty” follows loan shark Chili Palmer as he travels to Hollywood to collect a debt from a movie producer. Along the way, Chili becomes enamoured with the movie business and decides to produce a film of his own. The novel is filled with sharp dialogue, eccentric characters, and unexpected twists and turns.

Leonard’s novel is a standout in the caper genre due to its satirical take on Hollywood and the entertainment industry. The plot is fast-paced and full of witty observations about the movie business, and Leonard’s characters are as colourful as they are memorable. “Get Shorty” is a clever and entertaining caper that showcases Leonard’s talent for blending humor with suspense.

“Rising Sun” by Michael Crichton, 1992

In “Rising Sun,” a high-profile murder in a Japanese corporation’s Los Angeles headquarters sets off a chain of events involving corporate espionage, political intrigue, and racial tensions. As detectives investigate the crime, they uncover a web of deception and conspiracy that leads them to the highest levels of power.

Crichton’s novel is a gripping techno-thriller with elements of the caper genre. The plot is intricately woven, with Crichton’s meticulous research lending authenticity to the story’s backdrop of corporate culture and international relations. The tension builds steadily throughout the novel, as the characters race against time to uncover the truth behind the murder. “Rising Sun” is a riveting caper that showcases Crichton’s talent for blending suspense with social commentary.

“The Pelican Brief” by John Grisham, 1992

“The Pelican Brief” follows law student Darby Shaw as she investigates the assassinations of two Supreme Court justices. As Darby delves deeper into the conspiracy, she becomes a target herself and must go on the run to uncover the truth.

Grisham’s novel is a gripping legal thriller with elements of the caper genre. The plot is filled with suspense and intrigue, as Darby races against time to expose the corruption at the highest levels of government. Grisham’s writing is fast-paced and engaging, and he expertly ratchets up the tension with each twist and turn of the plot. “The Pelican Brief” is a thrilling caper that showcases Grisham’s skill at crafting compelling and suspenseful narratives.

“Florida Roadkill” by Tim Dorsey, 1999

In “Florida Roadkill,” the first installment of the Serge Storms series, Serge, a lovable but unhinged vigilante, embarks on a cross-country road trip filled with mayhem, murder, and madness. Along the way, Serge encounters a cast of eccentric characters and gets entangled in a series of bizarre and increasingly violent escapades.

Dorsey’s novel is a darkly comedic caper that revels in the absurdities of Florida’s underbelly. The plot is fast-paced and chaotic, with Dorsey’s irreverent humor and offbeat characters driving the narrative forward. Serge Storms is a larger-than-life protagonist, and his unpredictable antics add an element of unpredictability to the story. “Florida Roadkill” is a wild and entertaining caper that showcases Dorsey’s talent for crafting outrageous and unforgettable adventures.

“Brought to Book” by Peter Lovesey, 2001

In “Brought to Book,” Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond investigates the theft of a rare book from a university library. As Diamond delves into the case, he uncovers a web of secrets, rivalries, and hidden agendas within the academic community.

Lovesey’s novel is a classic whodunit with elements of the caper genre. The plot is intricately plotted, with Lovesey expertly weaving together multiple threads of investigation to keep readers guessing until the very end. Diamond is a compelling and tenacious protagonist, and his dogged determination adds depth to the story. “Brought to Book” is a clever and engaging caper that showcases Lovesey’s talent for crafting compelling mysteries with a literary twist.

“Last Tango in Little Grimley” by Malcolm Pryce, 2005

In “Last Tango in Little Grimley,” private investigator Louie Knight is hired to investigate a series of bizarre occurrences in the quirky Welsh town of Little Grimley. As Louie delves deeper into the case, he uncovers a conspiracy involving missing sheep, a secret society, and a plot to overthrow the local government.

Pryce’s novel is a comedic caper with a surreal twist. The plot is delightfully absurd, with Pryce revelling in the absurdities of small-town life and eccentric characters. Louie Knight is a charming and hapless protagonist, and his misadventures add a layer of humor to the story. “Last Tango in Little Grimley” is a hilarious and entertaining caper that showcases Pryce’s talent for crafting offbeat and irreverent mysteries.

“A Nail Through the Heart” by Timothy Hallinan, 2007

In “A Nail Through the Heart,” expatriate travel writer Poke Rafferty finds himself embroiled in a dangerous conspiracy when he befriends a young street child in Bangkok. As Poke investigates the boy’s past, he uncovers a web of corruption, human trafficking, and international intrigue that threatens to consume them both.

Hallinan’s novel is a gritty and atmospheric caper set against the backdrop of contemporary Thailand. The plot is fast-paced and suspenseful, with Hallinan expertly ratcheting up the tension with each twist and turn of the narrative. Poke Rafferty is a flawed but sympathetic protagonist, and his moral struggles add depth to the story. “A Nail Through the Heart” is a gripping caper that showcases Hallinan’s talent for crafting compelling mysteries with a cultural twist.

“One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories” by B.J. Novak, 2014

“One More Thing” is a collection of short stories by B.J. Novak, including the titular story which involves a heist at an art museum. In this caper, a group of thieves attempts to steal a valuable painting while navigating unexpected obstacles and moral dilemmas.

Novak’s work in this collection showcases his versatility as a writer, blending humor, satire, and poignant observations on human nature. The caper story, “One More Thing,” stands out for its clever premise and witty execution. Novak’s writing is sharp and engaging, and he deftly balances humor with moments of genuine emotion. Overall, “One More Thing” is a delightful collection that demonstrates Novak’s talent for crafting memorable and thought-provoking stories.

“Blacktop Wasteland” by S.A. Cosby, 2020

In “Blacktop Wasteland,” Beauregard “Bug” Montage is a former getaway driver and family man who struggles to make ends meet. When he’s tempted back into the world of crime for one last heist, Bug finds himself embroiled in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with ruthless criminals and law enforcement alike. As the stakes escalate, Bug must confront his past and fight to protect his loved ones.

Cosby’s novel is a gritty and gripping caper that explores themes of family, identity, and redemption against the backdrop of rural Virginia. “Blacktop Wasteland” features vividly drawn characters and taut, suspenseful prose that keeps readers on the edge of their seats. Cosby’s portrayal of Bug’s struggle to break free from the cycle of violence and poverty is both heartbreaking and compelling, making “Blacktop Wasteland” a standout in the genre.


And that’s our list of the twenty best caper fiction books. What’s your take on these – any surprises, or any caper fiction books not on this list that you feel should make the top twenty?

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