When I was a kid I read a good bit. A lot of it was fairly worthless pulp science fiction. I have never been that snobbish about poorly written books. I like Twilight, Harry Potter and a host of other books that many people complain about. While I really do appreciate a well written phrase, there is more to writing in my mind than perfect writing. A story needs to be told. The reader needs to be engaged.
The Stainless Steel Rat was a series that I know I read in or around middle school. But I had absolutely no memory of the series. I noticed that the first book was available at my library on audiobook and I picked it up out of pure nostalgia.
The story is not all that original (or at least it does not feel original now). In a future world, crime has almost entirely been stopped. Those few criminals that exist are captured and ‘re-educated’.
So it is only the very good criminals that still are around. The Stainless Steel Rat (as he likes to think of himself) is one of the best. He never repeats a con. He is patient, always willing to drop a con at the hint of a problem and in his own way, quite moral.
Early in the book he is captured by a secret government organization that is made up of former criminals who have been chosen to catch the really dangerous and violent criminals. (An alternative version of A-Team, Leverage, Starman, the Hulk, Airwolf, etc.)
It is not a horrible book. It is clearly one that is probably more young adult oriented. My issue is that it feels very dated. It was originally written in 1961 (re-issues in 1986 when I probably read it.) This is a spoiler, but the big twist in the middle of the book is that Slippery Jim (The Stainless Steel Rat) misses the real criminal on his first case because she is a woman and he didn’t think a woman would be able to be the brains behind the crime. He knew she was involved, but assumed she was forced into it.
In the end, we find out that she turned to a life of crime because she was ugly and wanted to get enough money to make herself beautiful. While there are some decent part of the book, it is so much a caricature of crime, and a 1960s casual sexism, I am not sure it is really worth reading as a whole.
I do want to note that it is currently only available in kindle and audio versions. There are many books that are being saved from obscurity because of digital publishing.