Sometimes, it’s fun to root for the “bad guy” in a book. Sometimes, a wrong does, up against an oppressive system or societal structure, make a right. Sometimes, villains are the most interesting and complex characters in the whole story, and I’m sick of pretending otherwise. They’re fun and flashy and dig into that instinct in us all to smash the sandcastle every once in a while.
It’s why we root for the Ocean’s Eleven protagonists even though they’re heisting it up all over the place. One of the reasons we like heist movies, according to The Swaddle, is the anti-capitalist themes and living vicariously through criminals without lifting a finger ourselves.
Let’s be clear here and point out this is true in fiction: movies and books. Sometimes risk-takers are fun to watch and read about. Sometimes the orchestration of the crime feels so intricately planned I’d be disappointed when their plan is thwarted. Sometimes the rich asshole at the top tamping his foot down on the rest of society deserves a loss and a little bit of revenge.
If this is the sort of thing you like to dive into for whatever reason, check out these 20 must-read “be gay, do crime” books in a range of genres that are full of elaborate plans, queer characters, and a whole lot of revenge.
Must-Read LGBTQ+ Crime Novels
Beneath the Citadel by Destiny Soria
Living under the rule of ancient prophesies, Cassa’s parents raised her as a rebel, and a rebel she is. Convinced The Citadel is hiding things and manipulating their citizens, she and a ragtag group of other teens are determined to take them down once and for all. After getting caught trying to break into the Citadel, though, they’re sentenced to death and thrown in jail. Now they’ve got to find a way out before the oppressive government wipes them out too.
The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe
Nora grew up changing identities at the drop of a hat, her mother always wrapped up in some scheme. Now, though, she has left all of that behind. That is, until she, her girlfriend, and her ex are trapped in the middle of a bank robbery. Now Nora’s past just might be the thing to get them out of this situation, but it means coming clean to her closest friends.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Devon and Chimaka are the only Black students at the prestigious Niveus Private Academy, and they both have secrets that got them there. When an anonymous person starts texting them with threats to reveal everything, they must work together to find out who has put a target on their back and how to stop them. And if they were willing to fight to get into Niveus, they’ll fight even harder to stay.
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
It’s Paris’s 1889 world fair and Severin, a sticky-fingered heir to the House Vanth is forced to find an ancient artifact in order to claim his rightful place on the Order of Babel. With a team just as determined to succeed for their own reasons, they must navigate puzzles, magic, and an Order convinced he won’t make it.
Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia
When Louise was a teenager, she fought off kidnappers, saving three other girls in the process. Now, she has moved on, forged a normal life waitressing at a café and hitting the roaring ’20s nightclubs at night. But then a teenager Black girl is found dead in front of her cafe, and she’s talked into going undercover to find out what’s happening and who’s causing it.
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
Malini is banished to a temple, alone, by her high-on-his-power brother after she refused to be burned alive in a purification ritual. Isolated and furious, her only interactions is with the maidservant who comes to clean her prison. After Priya is attacked and her hidden power is revealed, the two set out to take down the oppressive dictatorship that hurt them both.
Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson
As World War II approaches, Phyllis is working for a mobster as an assassin in Harlem, using her unique skills bestowed by her “saints hands.” Dev, Phyllis’s ex-lover, also has the gift: his hands can sense threats. Tamara, using a tarot deck, can predict peoples’ futures. All three characters get a part of the book, struggling with their gifts and what it means to be good or bad or something in between.
We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen
Jamie and Zoe meet in a memory support group after they both lose their past. Jamie can read minds, using that power to rob banks and whatever else he pleases. Zoe has been on the other side of things, using her super strength to take down the bad guys. When they both get wind of a threat to their city, they must join together to stop it, recovering some of their past along the way.
The Circus Infinite by Khan Wong
On the run from the experiments of The Institute, Jes takes refuge on pleasure moon Persephone-9. There, he joins the circus and finds comfort and friendship. But when Dax, a crime boss, sets his sights on the circus and uses Jes’s fugitive status to blackmail him into doing what he asks, Jes’s refuge is ruined. When Dax tries to pin the circus for some of his crimes, they must rally together to stop him.
She’s Too Pretty to Burn by Wendy Heard
Veronica, a photographer, is best friends with performance artist Nico. When Mick, a new girl, joins their world in the San Diego summer, Veronica is obsessed. Obsession and the need to push art to its limit converge into a deadly conclusion.
They Never Learn by Layne Fargo
English professor Scarlett Clark has everyone fooled. After hours, she targets bad men and kills them. That is, until the police come sniffing around campus and she must charm Dr. Mina Pierce to avoid suspicion. At the same time, student Carly is dealing with her own need for revenge after her roommate is assaulted at a party. As their stories collied, one thing is for sure: bad men won’t make it out of this one alive.
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Sue grew up an orphan, in a house of thieves. When the charming con man named Gentleman asks her to help him take the fortune of a young woman in a secluded manor, Sue agrees. Undercover as the girl’s maid, she’s supposed to help him seduce the young girl and then get her shut into a mental hospital. But the problem with working with thieves is you can never quite tell where trust lies.
Scorched Grace by Margot Douaihy
Sister Holiday’s background isn’t exactly what you’d expect of a nun, but that’s all behind her now. Only, when fires start popping up at Saint Sebastian’s School, her not-so-pretty past seems to turn the suspicion her way. Now she must use her skills to prove everyone wrong and find out who’s really starting the fires.
Bluebird by Ciel Pierlot
In the midst of a world at war, Rig is on the run from the Pyrite faction after making off with plans for weapons meant for them. On the side of the rebels, she smuggles and steals to her heart’s content. But when Rig’s twin sister is taken by Pyrite, she sets off on a rescue mission in the enemy’s territory.
Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen
After being outed by a raid on a gay bar, officer Evander Mills is kicked off the force. Then, the head of a soap empire, Irene, is killed, and her widow comes to Evander to investigate. Inside the soap empire’s grounds is a paradise for Evander, where people can be whoever they want openly. But poking around, Evander must uncover the scheming underneath it all that led to Irene’s death.
Bath Haus by P.J. Vernon
Oliver lives with his surgeon partner, Nathan Klien in Washington D.C. One night when Nathan’s out of town, Oliver ventures into a local bathhouse where he follows a stranger into a private room. Escaping with his life and a bruise on his neck, Oliver can’t let anyone know what happened that night, especially Nathan. The lies he tells Nathan spiral out of control, though, and what happened at the bathhouse just won’t seem to stay there.
Burn It All Down by Nicolas DiDomizio
After aspiring comic Joey’s boyfriend cheats on him, his whole future is uncertain. Their shared college, their future plans: it’s all crumbling down. At the same time, his mom’s relationship falls apart and the mother and son are furious together. In their anger, they go too far and must go on the run.
The Perfume Thief by Timothy Schaffert
Clementine used to be a thief, but now she runs a perfume shop in Nazi-Occupied Paris where she mixes scents for her friend and cabaret singer, Day. When Day’s Jewish identity is threatened to be exposed, Clementine must locate the diary of Day’s father inside an occupied house.
Snare by Lilja Sigurdardottir
Providing for her son after a messy divorce proves difficult for Sonja, and it pushes her into the underworld of drug trafficking into Iceland to try to get enough money to get custody back. But a customs officer is taking notice of her movements, and getting out of the trade isn’t as easy as giving a two-weeks notice.
Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn
On the run from the Guildmaster, Ryia works for Cal, head of the Saints, using her reputation as The Butcher to spill blood. When Ryia’s next goal takes her into the Guildmaster’s path, she and a team of desperate criminals work together to try to get freedom for them all or die trying.
In the mood for more crime books? Check out these 20-must read crime novels to keep you up at night or these 10 most unique crime books for your TBR!