The loveable con artist is a staple of British literature. Lucky Bunny by Jill Dawson fits the pattern, but with a whip smart female protagonist who comes full circle from stealing from doorsteps to keep her little brother fed, to taking part in the heist of the century to escape from an abusive husband with her daughter. Along the way she teams with other women to carry shoplifting to a high art and turn fleecing older gentlemen into an act of mercy. Can she really abandon a career that’s this much fun?
Joe Spork of Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway abandoned his father’s life of crime for his grandfather’s clock repair trade, but he’s stayed in touch with the criminal league. When an intricate device turns out to be not a clock but a doomsday machine, he’s able to call on this stalwart crew to help foil the plot. Harkaway is the son of John Le Carre, and while his bizarre scenarios have more of the flavor of 007, Harkaway’s aging spy Edie Bannister could definitely fit in one of Le Carre’s Smiley novels. Harkaway breaks both molds in having so many truly endearing characters.
Martin Amis gives us a truly scary crook in Lionel Asbo. Coming from the kind of family where two siblings are called the twins because they have the same father, Lionel picked his own last name (short for Anti-Social Behavior Order). Meanwhile, his mum, a cryptic crossword fan, descends into early dementia reciting clues – but not before an incestuous fling with grandson Des Pepperdine, who spends the rest of the book trying to figure out whether his murderous uncle Lionel knows. Des can’t totally abandon Lionel’s criminal teachings, but his pursuit of a real education and devotion to his wife and daughter put some hope into the subtitle of Lionel Asbo: State of England.