early century French Gentleman Cambrioleur extraordinaire whose life and feats have been "documented" by French novelist Maurice Leblanc.
Arsène Lupin is by far the coolest book character of all times...
A master in practically every discipline: he is well-versed in both Sciences and Humanities, fluently speaks a dozen languages, expert in martial arts, he is also a master of disguise and damn near irresistible to the ladies.
But more than anything, what sets him apart from other members of the Victorian action-hero club is his innate and oft practiced ability to discreetly appropriate other people's belongings for his private benefit. Unlike most of his literary counterparts, Arsène Lupin is a perfectly dishonest hero! And even if sometimes there is a hint of social justice, à la Robin Hood, most of his criminal activities are conducted for his sole benefit...
Which is not to say that he will rob anybody, by any means available... Far from it: only superfluously rich bourgeois and haughty aristocrats need worry. As for the means, Lupin will make a point never to shed innocent blood or resort to unnecessary violence and he goes out of his way to ensure that his victims (especially young female ones) are pleasantly treated and can only say nice things about the gentleman who robbed them.
In short he is the quintessential amoral-but-ethical hero.
Arsène Raoul Lupin is born from the (quite symbolic) forbidden union of a small time crook and gymnastic teacher (Theophraste Lupin, who will pass on to him his in-depth knowledge of boxing and fencing) and a young aristocratic lady (Henriette d'Andresy) who incurs her family's wrath with this misalliance.
When his father, turning out to be a less than respectable man, abandons them both and (quite literally) goes get hanged some place else, his mother is forced to work for room as a chambermaid at the service of wealthy cousins of the family. To avenge his mother's humiliation, young Arsène steals their most precious property (Queen Marie-Antoinette's famous pearl necklace) and thus starts a long and rather successful career of gentleman burglar.
Over the years, he will assume an untraceable number of identities and names, most often anagrams of his parents' (Raoul d'Andresy, Paul Sernine, Don Luis Perenna, Maxime Bermont, Horace Velmont, Lenormand...). He lives a thousand mysterious lives in between heists, sometimes even shining in totally unrelated professions: as an architect, a soldier in the French Foreign Legion and even as Head of the Sureté (Paris municipal police) during a few years...
His many love affaires all seem to take on tragic ends: either unwittingly drawn to his very own opponent parading as innocent defenseless women or cut short in his attempt to live a peaceful law-abiding life with his chosen love by the bloody intrusion of merciless foes... The death of the object of his love (sometime at his own hand, upon realization of their demonic murderous personality: see 813) punctuates many of his adventures, usually prompting a sudden retirement from public life: briefly embrassing priesthood, enrolling in the Legion, living as a recluse in some retired part of the world, even once attempting suicide only to be miraculously saved at the last moment. These bouts of self-destructive despair, slightly unusual for a hero, help excuse his unbearable hubris when things seem to go his way.
While mostly focusing on his own bank account and the occasional defense of poor helpless maidens, he does not mind occasionally helping higher causes of international interest (even lending a hand to German's Kaiser Wilhelm II in a very delicate case), although always with characteristic Gallic style and panache. Among his many nemesises, one can count Herlock Sholmes, a copyright-safe clone of the famous Victorian detective, whose brilliant intellect seems a serious match for Lupin's, but never fails getting ridiculed by the arrogant Frenchman in a last minute twist before the story ends.
Ubiquitous, omnipotent and endowed with devastating charm and irony, Lupin is pretty much the Simon Templar of early 20th century France. Lovable because, despite seemingly endless resources, he is often confronted with truly hopeless situations and unbearable misfortunes.
Arsène Lupin's adventures made the delight of my teenage years and still find their way into my reading stack quite regularly.
Whatever your age may be, do yourself a favor and indulge in the reading of this unusual character's adventures (chronological order works well, but is by no mean an absolute requirement): chances are by the time you are half-way through the first story, you will seriously be considering a new career as a Gentleman burglar.
Below is a near-exhaustive list of Leblanc's books featuring Lupin. In addition to this official cannon, there has been a bunch of apocryphal Lupin's stories (most notably by famous crime writer team Boileau and Narcejac) but imho, they do not compare to the original in style and content.
His character has also spawned a Japanese anime (Lupin the third) that bears a vague resemblance to the original.
Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Cambrioleur (Arsene Lupin, Gentleman Burglar)
Service d'Ami (Friendly Service)
Arsène Lupin contre Herlock Sholmes (Arsene Lupin vs. Herlock Sholmes)
Arsène Lupin , Pièce en 4 Actes ( Arsene Lupin, Play In Four Acts)
L'Aiguille Creuse (The Hollow Needle)
Une Aventure d'Arsène Lupin (An Adventure of Arsene Lupin) (small sketch)
Le Bouchon de Cristal (The Crystal Stopper)
Les Confidences d'Arsène Lupin (The Confidences Of Arsene Lupin aka The Confessions of Arsene Lupin)
L'Homme à la Peau de Bique (A Tragedy in the Forest of Morgues)
L'Éclat d'Obus (The Shell Shard)
Le Triangle d'Or (The Golden Triangle)
L'Île aux Trente Cercueils (The Island Of Thirty Coffins)
Les Dents du Tigre (The Teeth Of The Tiger)
Le Retour d'Arsène Lupin (The Return Of Arsene Lupin) stage's play
Les Huit Coups de l'Horloge (The Eight Strokes Of The Clock)
La Comtesse de Cagliostro (The Countess Of Cagliostro)
La Dent d'Hercule Petitgris (Hercule Petitgris' tooth) aka Le Pardessus d'Arsène Lupin (Arsene Lupin's Overcoat)
La Demoiselle aux Yeux Verts (The Damsel With Green Eyes)
L'Agence Barnett et Cie. (The Barnett & Co. Agency)
The Bridge That Broke (unpublished in French)
La Demeure Mystérieuse (The Mysterious Mansion)
Le Cabochon d'Emeraude (The Emerald Jewel)
La Femme aux Deux Sourires (The Woman With Two Smiles)
Un Quart d'Heure avec Arsène Lupin (15 Mins with Arsène Lupin) extended version of the play Cinq Minutes Montre en Main (15 Mins at the Clock)
Victor de la Brigade Mondaine
La Cagliostro se venge (The Revenge Of The Countess Of Cagliostro)
Les Milliards d'Arsène Lupin (The Billions Of Arsene Lupin)
Le Dernier Amour d'Arsène Lupin (The Last Love of Arsene Lupin)