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Con Artist Protagonists

JMC posted last week about having problems with con artist protagonists. I’ve enjoyed the occasional assassin book such as Kelley Armstrong’s Nadia Stafford series or Barry Eisler’s John Rain series. Jenny Crusie seems to love the morally ambiguous protagonist with books like Welcome to Temptation, Faking It, and Agnes and the Hitman.

I voted in the poll that I sometimes like the con artist or criminal protagonist, but you know, I prefer the non criminal heroes and heroines. What about you?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. vivienne klaus
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 04:55:02

    I love John Rain, and generally Eisler’s books. John Rain is a killer, payd to kill, but he has a moral, even if I can’t completely approve of it. I love characters like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Robert Craig’s Joe Pike, Andy McNab’s Nick Stone, 24’s Jack Bauer. If I think of romantic suspense novels, my mind flies with no stops to Brockmann’s Lawrence Decker: a killer. They are all guys that can kill with no concern at all, if they have to do. And usually, they kill killers, real bad guys. I think these heroes have a strong, romantic, tormented side. And that their authors are great writers. I have no problem with such tough protagonists. At all. I’ve more problems reading of vampires and warewolves and other paranormal stuff.

  2. Nell Dixon
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 05:05:29

    My heroine, Abbey is Blue Remembered Heels is a con artist but as her reasons for her life unravel then I think she’s someone people can empathise with. Readers all tell me they like Abbey and her family. I did have an agent turn it down though before I sold it to Little Black Dress and got my present agent because she felt a con artist would be a difficult sell.

  3. Statch
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 07:16:32

    I think it really depends on the writer. If it’s an integral part of the character, and the motives are understandable, I can enjoy a morally ambivalent hero. For some reason, I have less tolerance of it for the heroines, but a great writer can make me like anything.

    I absolutely despise the historicals where the heroine or the hero is a thief, even if it’s stealing from the rich to give to the poor. The thief heroine and the spy hero seem to have become standard themes for historical novels — sometimes mixed in the same book — and I won’t buy them. [Begin rant] How many spies were there in Regency England anyway? They must have been tripping over each other all the time [End rant].

  4. Jennifer Estep
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 07:40:53

    I really, really love con artist heroes. One day, I’ve love to write a twisty, elaborate heist book. :-)

    One of my favorite series is the John Dortmunder series by Donald E. Westlake about a band of quirky thieves. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch is an epic fantasy with a group of thieves as the heroes. I really enjoyed that one too. And of course, I love Leverage on TNT.

    I find that I often like the thief/assassin/grifter characters better than the main hero, especially when it comes to fantasy books. There’s just something so fun and cool about a character who’s smart enough to pull off an elaborate scam.

    Way back when, I wrote an epic fantasy with your usual farm girl heroine … and I realized that my secondary assassin character was way more interesting than my farm girl was! Maybe that’s why my new Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series features an assassin as the heroine. ;-)

    I think thief/assassin/grifter characters are so interesting because of the moral questions they raise and how the author handles them. Is it okay to kill someone for money? What about stealing? If someone is dumb enough to fall for a con, does that mean that it’s okay to fleece them? And so on and so forth.

    But really in the end, it all comes down to the writing, the way that it always does. Because even if there’s a thief/assassin/grifter character, if the writing doesn’t engage me, then I’m not going to enjoy the book.

  5. joanne
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 07:40:59

    I bore myself, but: it always depends on the writer and the writing.

    There’s also a huge difference between a plot with a con artist and a plot with an assassin. Con artist suggests, to me, that the hero or heroine is sneaky & a liar & should get a damn job, while assassin suggest — um — assassin, which means he or she is what they are and here’s their (hopefully) thrilling story.

    Also, what’s interesting and fun in one setting doesn’t work for me in another. The Lorraine Heath historical romance series, the one that plays off of Oliver Twist, has adults who were once street urchin thieves and it works really well for me. Put those stories in a contemporary setting and it would make me want to call Child Protection Services and not read the book.

    It’s a see above answer for me. Depends on the writer and the writing.

  6. Tae
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 08:29:43

    I love the Barry Eisler books and I love the complexity of John Rain, who specializes in making kills look natural. Obviously, I’d never approve if one of my friends were a hired killer, and the books are so well written that I could completely believe in Rain as a real person, but I still root for him anyways.

    Con artists…. I’m not sure about because I don’t like liars as heroes or heroines.

  7. handyhunter
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 08:35:28

    @Jennifer Estep: And of course, I love Leverage on TNT.

    Me too! Hardison’s my favourite, but the entire ensemble is fantastic. Great banter and character moments within a formulaic (heist of the week) plot. (On a meta level, I love that the tall black guy is the geek and smart and funny and BAD at fighting, and the short white guy is the thug/muscle, or Wolverine, basically.)

    I find that I often like the thief/assassin/grifter characters better than the main hero, especially when it comes to fantasy books. There's just something so fun and cool about a character who's smart enough to pull off an elaborate scam.

    Seriously, competence = hot and awesome. Also, the not quite playing by the rules (or “picking up where the law leaves off”) and banter and skills ordinary people don’t have… It’s like they’re superheroes! Who steal and stuff.

    I don’t think I’ve come across anything similar in a book, not that I’ve gone looking for it; I don’t really count Crusie’s characters because they’re reformed or attempting to. I’m not entirely sure it would work in a romance otherwise? because of the HEA, which would be hard to achieve when the characters are running from the law. I think Oceans 11 made note of this at the end of the movie.

  8. Jennifer Estep
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 09:17:16

    @Handy: It is sad how much I love that show. It’s like The A-Team, but with cons. :-)

    I like Nate the best. I’ve been a fan of Timothy Hutton since I saw him on Nero Wolfe. And I like that Hardison is the one chasing Parker, not the other way around.

    You should check out The Thomas Crown Affair with Pierce Brosnan. Great heist movie with a good romance too.

    King Con by Stephen J. Cannell is another book where the hero is a grifter trying to get back at a bad guy who hurt someone close to him. It’s more of an action-adventure book, but there is a romance subplot in that one …

  9. Sandy James
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 09:29:47

    If we’re counting TV and movies as well as books, I need to register my “thumbs up” for a lot of the guys in Ocean’s Eleven. George Clooney, of course, but what about Don Cheadle and Matt Damon? Either would work in a pinch. ;-)

  10. Kate
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 09:45:42

    This came up for me recently. I wanted to read charming, old Raffles stories only to find out I couldn’t accept that he was a “gentleman thief”. Maybe a few years ago but now I just read a bit and realize – if you can’t afford your lifestyle, get a new lifestyle or find a legal way to find the money. Stealing because you can isn’t charming. I think I grew out of the idea that it was when the economy changed, maybe even before.

    On the other hand, I love Ocean’s Eleven, Robin Hood, Leverage, A-Team… I guess I have to feel that the mark is such a jerk that I’m okay with the “misdeed.”

  11. library addict
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 09:59:30

    I voted sometimes because, as others have said, it really depends on the story and the writer.

    Roarke is one of my favorite heroes and he has been both a con-artist and a killer. As he once described his business empire: “I’m still picking pockets–I just do it as legally as I can.”

    I like con-artist heroes or heroines who are not in it for self-profit but to protect others from bad guys or right a wrong. Usually in romances the hero or heroine is a former con artist/jewel thief/whatever who now uses their “talents” for good. Maybe that doesn't fit the definition of a con artist in real life. But I would not like a hero who was stealing from widows and children.

  12. Mireya
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 10:10:11

    I prefer non criminal types too. I don’t “avoid” them… but I am more likely to only pick one with that sort of main character if it’s an author in my autobuy list. If it’s a new or new-to-me author, I’ll likely not get the book if it involves con/criminal types as main characters.

  13. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 10:14:38

    @Statch: There were no aristocratic Regency spies. Spymasters in Whitehall as part of the Foreign Office, maybe. Before the advent of James Bond, spying was considered a dishonorable profession and not one suitable for a gentleman. Most of the fighting in the Napoleonic Wars was done on the battlefield, and the spying was associated with it, but even then the people who did the spying were mostly put into separate units. Other covert activities were connected with the Diplomatic Service, but never admitted to.
    Contemporary stories with con artists and spies? If the author is skilled enough to make the character sympathetic, bring it on! One of my favorite TV shows at the moment is “The Mentalist.”

  14. handyhunter
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 10:24:20

    @Jennifer Estep: You should check out The Thomas Crown Affair with Pierce Brosnan. Great heist movie with a good romance too.

    Oh, yeah. I forgot about that one. Good example. Perhaps I should rewatch.

    Have you seen White Collar? The very, very pretty Matt Bomer is playing an art thief turned FBI consultant to get out of jail. I’ve only seen the pilot and it seems to have a good cast and writing. Also Matt Bomer is pretty. But I don’t think I’ll love it like I love Leverage, if for no other reason than Alec Hardison — and women who are actively involved in the con.

    And I like that Hardison is the one chasing Parker, not the other way around.

    Yes! It’s good about turning a bunch of stereotypes on its head. Go show! I like that he does it subtly, too — not in a stalkerish way, I mean, but that he listens to her and follows her cues. He strikes a good balance by expressing his interest without being pushy.

    It occurs to me that con artists are, in their own way, storytellers. And they have to fool the audience as much as their mark (or the audience is the mark). I wonder if that’s easier to do on screen than in a book? Though as has been mentioned, I suppose it has to do with the writer/quality of writing.

  15. Amy
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 10:28:17

    If I pick up a book and the blurb mentions a thief/con artist, I’m pretty much sold. Faking It from Crusie is a Keeper for me.
    And, of course, I had to write my own thief romance–my hero in Diamonds & Kisses is a hawt jewel thief :)

  16. LauraB
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 10:58:12

    Think Remington Steele and Han Solo… The con-man hero can appear more complex because his moral compass is gray not black and white. Also, his redemption and realization that being motivated solely by self-interest are truly delicious to me. He’s much more interesting than an alpha-hole.

  17. jmc
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 10:58:29

    I probably should’ve qualified my original post: I have a problem with assassin and con artist heroes and heroines in genre romance. For me, the genre makes a difference in my expectations of the characters. In romance, I want to care about and believe in the HEA/HFN of the hero and heroine, which includes their romance but also their ongoing life together. If their profession(s) is/are criminal, then it’s hard for me to care about the HEA, in part because of the precarious nature of their “jobs” and in part because of the slippery slope morality.

    Heroes and heroines who have been con artists or have some other criminal activity in their pasts? I’m okay with that, if the author shows them attempting to go straight and they aren’t participating in an ongoing con or killing in the pages of the current story. Roarke is the best example of this that I can think of, and maybe Tess Alcott, heroine of Michelle Martin’s Stolen Hearts. Picking pockets legally? I’m okay with that. Legally is the key.

    In other popular fiction, the con/killer protagonist doesn’t bother me, assuming the author can build a backstory and a character that makes them believable. (Ex: Kelley Armstrong’s Nadia Stafford).

  18. Likari
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 11:11:00


    Now, I’m not sure because I have only read an excerpt, but I think the Courtney Milan book coming out (have we been waiting 4-ever?) has a sort of con artist heroine — forced into the con by circumstance, of course!

    As a rule, I don’t like liars and tricksters as heroes, but I am really looking forward to Proof by Seduction.

  19. Eva_baby
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 11:47:55

    Oooh, a well written con artist/thief protagonist can be a a great read. Even in romance. Nora Roberts has written a few good ones, Sweet Revenge where the heroine is the daughter of a faded, tragic movie star who becomes a thief to support her mother and to ultimately steal from her evil father. And Honest Illusions the look at a group of magicians who are also jewel thieves. And even Three Fates, while not a story about con artists at all, what made it so enjoyable to me was the last third of the book was one, big elaborate con.

    I do enjoy the art of the con. I am a sucker for the Oceans 11 movies, the Mission Impossible tv show and I adored Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamorra.

    I think my main thing with a writer is, if they are going to go there — make their protagonist a con artist, thief, assassin or whatever — then go big. Make them a good con artist, thief or assassin. Make them be the best con artist or thief around and give them a moral center or a least a motivation that makes them palatable as a root-able protagonist. And make them matter of fact (not apologetic) about what they do. Then I can sit back and enjoy the ride.

  20. Valerie
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 12:10:44

    I love me a con man or assassin hero m’self. Faking It is one of my favorite books ever, and that mob hit in Agnes and the Hitman just does it for me, somehow. This probably has to do with both my lifelong love of Robin Hood (and Will Scarlet, at least as portrayed by Christian Slater. Yum) and tough guys with shotguns. My favorite character in Firefly was big, dumb, gun-toting and amoral Jayne Cobb, I adore Titus Pullo in Rome, who is essentially Jayne pre-firearms, and I am an avid Burn Notice fangirl (spies. If someone could wrap up Bruce Campbell for me with a big shiny bow, I’ll be a happy woman). And of course, I’ve loved Han Solo since I was a child.

    That being said, a bad boy morally ambiguous hero is fine by me, but a badly written morally ambiguous hero? No thank you. And I completely agree with Eva_baby: I don’t want them apologetic or conflicted. If you’re going to go there, go big or go home.

  21. Marianne McA
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 12:13:02

    I’d agree most with jmc, these characters bother me most in romances. I don’t read the ‘In Death’ series any more, but it did bother me that Roarke had made his money illegally – I’d always some sympathy for the nameless multitudes that he must have screwed.
    But you can have sympathetic con-artists – sometimes because their situation has forced their hand, but sometimes just because they’re appealing: Pratchett has a (forcibly reformed) con artist hero Moist Von Lipwig, who really enjoys the thrill of it all. Nice thing about Pratchett is that he does make the point in the writing that even though Moist feels he never harms anyone, blameless people are hurt – he doesn’t labour that point, but it is there.

    Assassins on the other hand – I can’t see then as other than morality-free entities. I’d completely differentiate between soldier-heroes and assassins or mercanaries. I can root for a soldier to have a happy ending: but not someone who kills for their own gratification. (And if you kill for money, surely you’re killing for your own gratification?)
    As far as romance goes, I can’t bring myself to care if they have an HEA, and the fun I get from romance is in the wanting the h/h to have their HEA.

    So sometimes for the con artist, but never yet for the assassin.

  22. Denise
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 12:14:40

    I like the con artist/thief/criminal hero depending on how the author writes him. As I’m fond of anti-heroes, this type of hero works for me. I became a fan of Anne Stuart after I read her book Prince of Swords in which the hero was a jewel thief. He remains one of my favorite heroes to date.

  23. Kerry D.
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 12:27:40

    To put it simply: Hate, hate, hate them. Also thieves and assassins. If a book, or a movie, or whatever has them, I’m gone.

    The author has to be very, very good and I have to have a recommendation from someone I really trust for me to give it a go.

    They really push my buttons.

  24. Suze
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 13:03:27

    I have to agree with the comment upstream that, now that the economy has gone tits-up because of legal con artists (or at least con artists that nobody seems to be interested in prosecuting), the concept as a whole loses its charm.

    Although, it depends on the context in the book. I always loved the Robin Hood stories. If the con artist is fighting a corrupt and abusive power structure to bring justice to the ordinary folks, cool. Bring it on. If the con artist is just a charming fellow who gets his jollies, and money, from ripping off people who work for their money, he can’t be the hero (or she can’t be the heroine). That kind of person is only sympathetic when the system they’re ripping off doesn’t consist of ordinary people.

    Sure, you can be Bonnie and Clyde, robbing banks and being folk heroes. But there are still people who lose everything because the bank that you robbed had their life savings in it. (Or there would be in a banking system that’s not regulated.)

  25. Caligi
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 16:03:14

    Growing up as I have, I must admit to having squishier morals than the middle class. Theft and cheating is fairly common in working class life. There are boundaries, of course. B&E and stealing someone’s TV is not okay, but most of us typed our schoolwork out on computers that “fell off the back of a truck.”

    So I’m okay with heroes/heroines who steal from companies, scam the “man,” play dirty as a political assassin, hassle the rich or otherwise play the game. I don’t think I’d like a petty thief, but I’d go for masterminds of any persuasion.

    FWIW, I’ve had my house broken into a few times and stuff stolen from me. Maybe that makes me broken, but I still can find banditry romantic. Only in America…

  26. Ros
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 16:50:22

    I’ve been trying to work this out and I think my answer is that I like them a lot in films and not at all in books. I’m not quite sure why, but I think it’s something to do with feeling betrayed by the author/narrator.

  27. Jennifer Estep
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 17:03:05

    @Handy — I have been watching White Collar. I agree that it’s not as good as Leverage, but it’s still pretty entertaining. I do want to know what the deal with the girlfriend is and why she left him.

    @Eva — I have Red Seas Under Red Skies by Lynch — the sequel to Locke Lamora — to read. I’m looking forward to that one, but the release date for the third book keeps getting pushed back on Amazon …

    @Valerie — I forgot about Burn Notice! I love that show too. Bruce is awesome … especially when he’s being Chuck Finley. ;-)

    The Italian Job with Mark Wahlberg is another cool heist movie. Love the Mini Coopers in that one …

  28. Amber
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 17:06:25

    It depends on the skill of the author. Con artist is quite a bit different from even thief or other criminal–mainly because most con artists are exceptional liars and manipulators. Which means that I’d have a hard time believing anything that the person said or did was genuine.

    Kay Hooper’s Thief series or Suzanne Enoch’s Jellicoe series are two that I think have very compelling thieves as protagonists–and it works. Perhaps because of the semi-reformed nature of the thieves, but I think also due to the skills of the writers.

  29. handyhunter
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 17:38:49

    @Jennifer Estep: heh. I find the girlfriend part the least interesting aspect of the show, mostly because it’s using the old “woman as motivation for the man” trope (in a series where the other female characters are secondary anyway), instead of her being a character in her own right; plus, there’s a vibe of Neal having to save her from something or someone. But it’s early in the series and maybe that’ll change.

    Oh, another heist movie I liked, for the most part: Inside Man. But not a very strong romance thread in that.

    Also Shana Abe’s Drakkon series, though it’s not so much about the con and stealing — and when it happens, it’s due to survival or reclaiming ownership or some force greater than human laws.

  30. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 18:12:11

    @Jennifer Estep: The Italian Job with Michael Caine is even better!

  31. Ami
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 18:23:33

    Eh, as long as the characters are interesting and the set-up as well, I’m cool with that. The set-up work has to be elaborate though, not just simply, I have awesome cool reflexes thus I can dodge everything and get into the safe, just cuz i’m THAT awesome. I think I’m mainly cool with stealing from the rich as long as they either deserve it or can afford it. Of course when you get into The Talented Mr. Ripley con artist type… hated that, and I was confused the entire way wondering when the book when get good or why it was turned into a movie.

    The assassins sometimes are really boring, because they aren’t anything outside of their role as an assassin. I think Anne Stuart the first book with the anti-hero, the one with the knife? I couldn’t read that one at all. But I loved Peter. ^_^;

  32. hapax
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 18:31:40

    I love me all sorts of characters — con artists, thiefs, assassins, out and out psycho killers — in fiction that I would find disgusting and horrific in real life. (Ditto for the mass murdering reanimated corpses or members of other species that are so hawt in paranormal romance right now).

    Why? Same reason I like all sorts of “extreme” characters — from centuries ago, from distant countries, with superpowers, with fabulous wealth… Sometimes I read to safely “try on” a persona who isn’t at all like me, never will be like me, whom I don’t particularly want to be. It’s no different from putting on a costume like a lot of us did last night and being “somebody else” for a while.

    Of course, it goes without saying that the writer needs to use talent and craft. Otherwise, the costume is just ugly, ill-fitting, and scratchy in awkward places.

  33. Kate K
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 19:19:20

    The first book that popped into my head was THE BRIDAL SEASON by Connie Brockway. The heroine is a con artist who dupes her way into becoming a wedding planner. It may seem far fetched, but Brockway is such a fantastic storyteller that it all feels very real. One of my all-time favorites.

  34. DS
    Nov 01, 2009 @ 19:35:10

    Anne Stuart’s Ritual Sins from 1997 had a main character who was the charismatic leader of a New Age group. The heroine’s mother had recently died and left all of her money to the same New Age group. The heroine intended to confront him about her mother. Both the hero and the heroine were neurotic messes. The sex was abusive but pretty hot. This is my favorite Anne Stuart novel.

    Connie Brockway had a female thief in All Through the Night. She started out with the woman clearly an adrenalin junkie. However Brockway ended up trying so hard to prove that the woman wasn’t all that bad because she only stole from people who promised money to her charity but didn’t pay up– I kept thinking about Public Television sending Big Bird over to break into the houses of people who pledged and didn’t pay.

    Assassin? Fantasy/sf doesn’t bother me if there is a role for the assassin in the culture. Cherryh’s Foreigner series have an Assassin’s Guild that works for me. However, I tried to recently read a book that opened with an assassin stalking the heroine. I gave up as soon as realized that he was going to be the hero. That didn’t work at all and I can’t even remember the name of the book. I think it was an ebook original and a Kindle freebie.

  35. SonomaLass
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 00:16:11

    I prefer it if the con-artist has a sympathetic reason for what he/she is doing, if the con is going to be part of the plot. My favorite example is a film, not a book, and that’s The Sting. I could watch that over and over — oh wait, I do! Not really a romance, but a good ending. [Okay, and it’s Paul Newman and Robert Redford, that too. But I don’t like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid quite as well, and I think that’s due to them being really criminals, even killers, and the lack of a happy ending.]

    I also don’t mind when the con is part of the character’s back story, or is something he or she gives up in the course of the book. “I love you enough to go straight” is pretty powerful stuff, if the author makes me believe a) that the character means it, and b) that it won’t catch up with the happy couple and ruin their HEA.

    And as several others have said, it’s all about the writing. A really fine writer can make me like all sort of types and tropes that I thought I didn’t care for!

  36. Jennifer Estep
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 08:48:02

    @Handy — I keep meaning to watch Inside Man when it’s on cable but haven’t gotten around to it yet …

    @Amber — I like the Samantha Jellicoe series a lot too.

    @Lynne — I haven’t seen the original, but I’ll have to check it out.

    @SonomaLass — I really like The Sting too.

  37. Michelle
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 09:19:14

    Love them. I enjoy when the con man out cons someone dishonest, etc.
    Of course my favorite books are Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief series. Gen is one of the best heros. I love the sneaky, twisty- minded ones.

  38. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 09:19:23

    I love Leverage on TNT.

    Premise seemed like an American remake of Hustle, an English show that I adored. It's about a group who run long cons on not-so-nice people (“Only someone who thinks he can get something for nothing can be conned”). I highly recommend the first two seasons (the third one no so much, as they replaced one of the leads and it just didn't work as well).

    I like conmen and women along these lines.

  39. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 09:25:48

    Assassin? Fantasy/sf doesn't bother me if there is a role for the assassin in the culture. Cherryh's Foreigner series have an Assassin's Guild that works for me.

    It’s a great series. I think the reason that the Assassin Guild works so well for me is that A) they’re aliens and B) the culture seems vaguely based on Feudal Japan, with the Samurai and Ninja dynamic both folded into the Guild.

    I seriously considered naming my latest dog (a black Neapolitan Mastiff) Banichi, which I know makes me an uber-geek, LOL!

  40. Jean
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 10:07:29

    This is slightly OT, but does anybody besides me NOT like Roarke from the “In Death” series? I hate that guy! Arrogant and pushy, I never got past Book 1, and then I’d attempt to try again with another book and end up shaking my head over this character. Yuck. That he apparently is okay with stealing from others–legally or no–to get what he wants just seals the deal.

    As for con artist and killer protagonists, only if their cause is just. As said above by others, if the protagonist is fighting on the behalf of the downtrodden or to right a wrong, I’ll go with it, if I also find the protagonist likable or sympathetic. If not, then it’s a no go for me. Basically, I root for a person with honor.

  41. Another Jessica
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 11:02:05

    @Jean: Well, I like Roarke. But I didn’t like the first two books at all. I started out with the third book and went back to those two later, for completeness. I thought both Eve and Roarke in those books were still being developed, and both of them were repelling characters. While Roarke wasn’t a serious suspect in the first book, he was still on the list, when he and Eve got involved. I didn’t like that. I just pretend those two books didn’t happen.

    As far as Roarke being arrogant and pushy, I must say, Eve also has major faults. She’s extremely obsessive and neurotic and very childish, and they seem to deal well together. Would I like either of them if met them? No. Would either character work as a single character? I don’t think so. But they go well together, I think.

  42. Meljean
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 11:24:10

    @Jean: I don’t hate him, but I don’t read the books for him, either (for me, it’s all about Eve) so I don’t mind when he’s in the background of the story.

  43. MaryK
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 12:47:40

    @Jennifer Estep:

    I've been a fan of Timothy Hutton since I saw him on Nero Wolfe.

    Me, too! He was perfect as Archie. I’ve listened to several Nero Wolfe audio books, and I always picture Hutton as Archie.

    I’m a “sometimes” on the poll. I don’t generally like criminal protagonists but have liked some (Catspaw and Catspaw II by Anne Stuart come to mind), so I have to decide on a case by case basis. It usually depends on whether or not they’re using their con powers for good. :)

  44. Gina
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 13:08:00


    I adore Titus Pullo in Rome, who is essentially Jayne pre-firearms

    I have never thought about it that way, but you are so right! I love Titus. The gladiator fight scene when Lucius comes to his defense is one of my absolute favorites. Graphic as all out get, but hits me in the gut in the best way.

    As for criminal H/H… I enjoy them for the most part. I enjoy them because they’re usually clever and quick on their feet, and they usually have a black sense of humor that I can appreciate. I don’t like it when they’re paired with a squeaky clean partner, though, because then the conflict between the H/H get too predictable.

  45. Kelly L.
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 14:13:21

    I have never thought about it that way, but you are so right! I love Titus. The gladiator fight scene when Lucius comes to his defense is one of my absolute favorites. Graphic as all out get, but hits me in the gut in the best way.


    I love Rome…

    I can enjoy a criminal hero or heroine in romance, if they’re written as an underdog/Robin Hood, and I can definitely enjoy protags with questionable ethics in non-romance. I love the Song of Ice and Fire novels, for example, where many of the POV characters do nasty things for reasons they feel are justifiable. It’s fun being in their heads, at least for a little while.

  46. Kalen Hughes
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 15:29:57

    Rome and Deadwood were both filled with antiheroes who you love and root for regardless of the horrible things they do (and they do HORRIBLE things). I adored those shows, but I'm not sure anyone in them was hero or heroine fodder for a genre romance, LOL! Ok, maybe Saul and Trixie (if you don't mind the hooker with a heart of gold chestnut).

    And you can throw me on the Jayne wagon too (and the Titus one). *grin* One of my male friends is seriously disturbed that I have a thing for Jayne. I had to leave it with “I'm not saying I'd date him . . .” Oddly (or not oddly, depending on how you look at it) my girlfriends just nod and smile and shake their heads in agreement, LOL!

  47. Jean
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 16:35:38

    @Another Jessica and @Meljean: Thank you for the reply! It’s interesting that maybe picking a later book in the series would fix the Roarke characterization problem; maybe I’ll try a later book in the series where he is not so present and stick to it, see what happens.

  48. Michelle
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 20:19:11

    If you would like to see a book with a more vulnerable Roarke, I would recommend Portrait in Death. I won’t go into details because of spoilers, but it is a really good one.

    I love Eve and would definitely want her in my corner.

  49. helen
    Nov 02, 2009 @ 21:10:42

    The new book called Skin Game-all about the con baby, with a twist. I LOVE it. I had not idea till I read your post today that it was another pen name by Ann Aguire.

  50. ReacherFan
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 15:19:38

    vivienne klaus named many of my all time favorites (John Rain ranking really high on the list), missing only Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon! I like the ‘caper’ style books where the good guy isn’t all good. It’s the Dirty Harry Syndrome.

    Stephen Hunter’s first three Bob Lee Swagger books, Lawrence Block’s HitMan books, almost everything by Ross Thomas, King of the Caper novel along with Donald E Westlake. Or how about the Repairman Jack books or the very dark and grim Burke books by Andrew Vachss? Even the Connor Burke books by John Donohue.

    I’d say the morally ambiguous hero is very common in mystery and action thrillers. Ever Robert B Parker’s Spenser and Jesse Stone are about what’s just rather than what’s legal. And Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole and Joe Pike have some wild shootouts in the course of their outings. Whether it’s the old Paladin series (Have Gun Will Travel starring Richard Boone) is about a moral man who operates outside the law.

    The Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser is a classic against type anti-hero with few redeeming qualities, but funny as hell. The thing is, Flashman is NOT a moral man! The men named above are. The have a code and live by it. I can admire that, and like the man. In fact, it’s a very large part of the man’s appeal. He’ll do whatever is necessary to protect those that need it. The Avenger by Frederick Forsyth is about EXACTLY that kind of man. James Thayer’s White Star has as a protagonist a former sniper (now a prosecutor and father) being hunter by another former sniper. His heroine recognizes in him the same thing that Bob Lee Swagger’s wife see in him in A Time to Hunt – a man who needs to prove himself still the best, do the right thing and protect the innocent. How cool is that? More importantly, how seductive is the lure of a tough man you can rely on in extreme circumstances?

    It’s not just mysteries or action/intrigue that loves the bad boys, romance loves them too. There are pirates, privateers, desert sheiks, men who commit rape (Whitney, My Love being a classic in that) and many others. I’ll take John Rain or Jack Reacher over Clayton Westmoreland any day!

  51. vivienne klaus
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 17:26:27

    Dear Reacher Fan, I am a Reacher Creature, are you too? On his forum I mean. I love Gabriel Allon, too, you can’t imagine how much, and Jesse Stone, too. And Swagger.I love also authors like Coben, and Leather. Lately I descovered Walt Longmire, the Wyoming Sherif created by Craig Johnson. I read his first novel, The Cold DIsh, and I fell in love with the old Walt. He is close to retirement. I’ve always found tough guys thrillers very romantic, no matter what the hero does for a living. What is really important, is his moral code, and integrity. Another tip: Joe Hunter. He’s brit, created by an English author, Matt Hilton. His first novel, Dead Men’s Dust, was released this year. Very appreciated.
    I alternate thriller and romance novels. Now I’m reading Tessa Dare’s Goddess of the hunt and having very romantic fun.
    Let’s keep in touch, Rechear Fan.

  52. ReacherFan
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 23:16:48

    LOL @ vivienne

    I think we are the hardcore action thrill/intrigue fans here! I have read some of the Walt Longmire series books and I’ve also read most of C. J. Box’s books. I liked the Antonio Burns books by Clinton MacKenzie. Talk about an ambiguous hero! He stopped writing for a number of years but his website says he’s working on another novel now. I like most of James D Doss’ books as well.

    I’ve read a lot of the Stephen Leather books, but I’ll make note of author Matt Hilton. Be sure to read The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie (yes the actor) He wrote it years ago and it’s a great off-beat caper/action thriller book that’s like what Ross Thomas used to write but with a former SAS para of ‘flexible morality’ as his hero. His heroine is just as ‘flexible’. It’s just a really, really good read.

    For romantic suspense, I really like a lot of Tara Janzen’s books. Her heroine’s are interesting and get more so as the books move on. Shannon McKenna writes books with dark and slightly grim books that are good. I have an ARC of her latest on the TBR pile. Roxanne St Claire’s Make Her pay has a reformed (maybe) thief as the hero, which isn’t as interesting as when she used Yakuza in some of her earlier books. Those were just great.

    Maybe the paranormal heroes are more appealing to those who read a lot of intrigue/action books because their ‘nature’ is to survive and violence is often just fundamental. Some interesting issues in what we find acceptable in behavior between the pages of books and real life. :-) Like you, I favor the ‘tough guys’, though I admit Rupert Carstairs from Loretta Chase’s Mr Impossible remains ones of my all time favorite heroes in any genre of romance!

  53. vivienne klaus
    Nov 04, 2009 @ 08:13:28

    Ah! We share good reads. I thought I was the only split in two reader, I’m glad I found you. I never read Hugh Laurie’s novels, but I’m curious about them. I like watching House… Talking about Sas, I’m a desperate fan of Andy McNab’s Nick Stone (Stone and Reacher are definitely my heroes). I’m waiting for his new adventure, Exit Wound. ANd what about Mr Bruen?
    There are so many authors, out there, waiting for me, authors I discovered when I began reading only in English (I’m Italian, and italian translations of my fave authors are scarce and betraying English prose). I’m getting crazy trying authors and titles, both on the thriller side than on the romance one. My wish list is growing everyday. As to romantic suspence, I’ve not read so much, by now. Brockmann (all the TS series), Gerard, Clare and Melton. I have the new St Claire’s on my nightstand, too. But I prefer historicals. If I read romance, I like diving in the past, regency or victorian periods will do, better than georgian(though I enjoy reading Mrs Hoyt). I like Mrs Chase, too. Also Mr Perfect is someone to dream of….
    It’s been nice to meet you.
    Hope to hear from you soon

  54. vivienne klaus
    Nov 04, 2009 @ 08:15:33

    The address of my website was wrong on the message above. This is the right one.

  55. ReacherFan
    Nov 04, 2009 @ 10:38:00

    Allow me to correct myself, it was Anne Stuart who did the Yakuza heroes. She’s really good.

  56. vivienne klaus
    Nov 04, 2009 @ 11:28:40

    Hers, I read Cold as Ice, and still have the Ice series scheduled. I know she used to write good historicals, too, an that lately (if I recall correctly) she’s chosen the dark side of the Force:vampires!
    Vampires and paranormal won’t have me! Ever! (Don’t say never…I know).


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