Rules Are for Breaking: Crime Fiction’s Renegades

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “renegade” as an individual who rejects lawful or conventional behavior. Crime fiction no matter what medium—movies, TV, or books—is full of renegade characters who not only reject rules and ignore social norms, they routinely break the law, taking the concept of knight errant to a whole new level. Here are some of my favorite crime fiction renegades.

The A Team, from the movie and the TV series

With the A Team you get four ex-special forces renegades for the price of one. Running from the law themselves, Hannibal, Face, Murdoch, and B.A. stop at nothing to help victims fight against deadly bullies of all kinds. No problem is too hard for the A Team and they don’t mind shooting and blowing things up to get the job done.

Katniss Everdeen, from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Katniss is forced to disobey the law in order to survive, as she hunts for food for her family in forbidden areas. She manipulates and redefines the rules of survival as a contestant in the Hunger Games, because the existing terms are unacceptable.

Hawk, from the Spenser books by Robert B. Parker

Hawk stands up for Spenser no matter what the consequences. He works for those who do business outside the law, and follows his own code of ethics but Hawk’s actions often make it easier for Spenser to be a hero. If I am ever in trouble in the fictional universe, I am calling Hawk.

Ranger, from the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich

Ranger is not your typical loner renegade. He comes with an entire staff of renegades-for-hire, complete with black Range Rovers and a secret impenetrable lair. And the whole team wears sunglasses most of the time. Best of all, according to Stephanie Plum, Ranger always smells nice.

Jack Reacher, from the books by Lee Child

There is no situation too tough for ex-military policeman, Jack Reacher. He doesn’t need any kind of baggage—belongings or relationships. I think my favorite thing about him is the he wears his clothes and then throws them out. It’s a life without ironing, suitcases or laundry. It would be cost prohibitive in real life but what a freeing concept.

Joe Pike, from the books by Robert Crais

Loyal to his bud, Elvis Cole, we love capable, tough guy, Joe Pike. Like the A Team and Jack Reacher, Pike is ex-military. He doesn’t wait around for the cops to show if there is trouble. The man has arrow tattoos on his arms that invite a fight anytime, anyplace. He doesn’t talk a lot, but when you need a tough guy, who needs a lot of words?

Carrie Mathison, from the TV series, Homeland

Carrie always thinks she’s right and doesn’t know when to quit, especially when she is hunting down the terrorist, Abu Nazir. It doesn’t matter how many laws she’s breaking, who tells her not to do something, or how much it costs her—even when she loses her job, her freedom, or even her sanity. She pushes and pushes and pushes. One of the reasons I love this character is that even as she is her own worst enemy, she is often as right as she thinks she is. In some cases her seemingly crazy behavior prevents major terrorist attacks, although she rarely gets confirmation that her sacrifices are worth it, she keeps pushing on.

Who are your favorite crime fiction renegades?

Deborah Lacy likes speakeasies, yellow heirloom tomatoes, and crime fiction. She blogs over at Mystery Playground and at Criminal Element. You can find her on Twitter @quippy.

Read all posts by Deborah Lacy for Criminal Element.


  1. Terrie Farley Moran

    Neal and Mozzie on White Collar! Remington Steele! The whole gang on Leverage! I do love Renegades!

  2. Deborah Lacy

    @Terrie – lots of great renegades. Do you like Leverage? I never could quite get into it.

  3. Terrie Farley Moran

    @Deborah, I watched Leverage from time to time but am far from addicted. Just a week or so ago, I read that the series finale was coming up so I was sure to DVR it. I finally got to see it earlier this week and it was an okay ending for an okay series.

  4. kevin greenstreet

    Hawk, the bad ass bad actor whose inate lawlessness was negated always by Spenser and Susan’s security was one of my all time favorite characters in the serial, crime fiction sub-genre. The character seemed unfazed by death, his or any others, save Spenser and his lady. I also think Avery Brooks was perfectly cast in the television series…and I don’t believe I’ve seen him since the show. Anyone have any updated info?

  5. Deborah Lacy

    @Rudeboy99 – Avery Brooks was a Star Trek Captain after Spenser. He planed Commander Benjamin Layfayette Sisco on Deep Space Nine for the shows run – 1993-1999. I am also a big fan of Deep Space Nine and watched it every single week when it was on the air. I didn’t connect that the same actor played Hawk and Sisko until I read about it in finale press coverage for DS9. He’s such a great actor. To me there was Hawk and there was Sisko. There was no actor.
    Thank you for your question.

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