Title: The Stainless Steel Rat
Author: Harry Harrison
Series: The Stainless Steel Rat, #1 (Publication Order)
The Stainless Steel Rat series is often called one of the hidden gems of science fiction. Originally published in 1960, the original book managed to both be a tribute to the Golden Age and pulp, without taking itself seriously at all. If there's a gentleman thief I love, it's The Stainless Steel Rat.
I first read these books as a teenager. In fact, my mother was a big fan. By the time I wanted them all (including the Choose Your Own Adventure book) I discovered the sad fact that most of the titles are now out of print. However, if you have yet to experience Harry Harrison, fear not! Many of these books have been republished in anthologies of sorts, putting three books in one. Also, I find that most major public library systems will have a few, or if they don't, they can help source them for you.
What I find so fascinating about The Stainless Steel Rat beyond the fact that it is pure, unadulterated fun, is that it manages to take a setting that most authors would use as a dystopia (we've now pretty much abolished crime through early screening and genetics... and we wipe dangerous personalities...) and instead uses it for pulp adventures. Never does Harry Harrison try to take himself too seriously in these books, which means he can get away with a lot more than if he were trying to make a real point or statement about humanity.
The protagonist's main problem is that he's bored. He realized that he could either stay in the lines of society and continue to be bored, or become a master criminal. There really wasn't any in-between. So he went after the latter. Unfortunately for him, he ends up getting captured. His only way out? To be the criminal that catches the big bad actually without morals criminals that are so rare these days that cops can't deal with them.
It's not an uncommon premise, but Harry Harrison doesn't care. He's having fun with it. Slippery Jim goes on his adventures and fucks up and goes and has more adventures. People are upset with him, but whevs. It'll all be alright in the end.
Oh. And everyone speaks Esperanto. I can't remember if that's remarked upon in this book or the next, but it makes me smile.
Fair warning: These books are pretty polarizing. You tend to either love them or hate them. It really seems to depend on how much pulp you can take, and how much you like pulp. If you do, I promise you. You're missing out. Harry Harrison is a master.