Criminal Heroes

Cops and detectives are the villains here, while the criminal protagonists live out our law-breaking fantasies. Low level crooks reaching for the big time, mafia dons protecting their empire; con artists, real estate scammers and high school teachers turned meth kingpins, burglars, amateur kidnappers and misguided vigilantes -- their career choices guarantee tension and a compelling plot.

On television, the Sopranos and Breaking Bad perfected the genre.

Novelists working this beat include George V. Higgins, Sean Doolittle, George Pelecanos, Jim Thompson, Gillian Flynn and of course Elmore Leonard. Out on the lunatic fringe is Carl Hiaasen whose comedic, Florida-set stories put their hapless crooks through misadventures only fellow losers -- and readers could love.

But without the narcissistic, strangely empathetic sociopaths created by Patricia Highsmith – Tom Ripley is the prime example – this genre would never have darkened into maturity. Highsmith was the trailblazer and if your good guy is a bad guy, you owe your writer's debt to her.

Patrica Highsmith

patrica highsmith

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