The Great Cheese Conspiracy is a 1969 children's book by Jean Van Leeuwen featuring a gang of three rats who attempt to knock over a cheese shop. ISBN 0440430801.
It's a quick read--maybe an hour--and quite enjoyable. The mice have been compared to The Three Stooges and Alvin and the Chipmunks, though I'm not sure how accurate that is. Their dynamic reminded me a bit of Bertrand R. Brinley's The Mad Scientists' Club.
The story is told in the first-person perspective by gang leader Merciless Marvin the Magnificent. He's a born leader: brave, inspiring, quick to take credit. The rats are living in a cinema in New York City and Marvin quite enjoys crime flicks.
Second in the gang is Raymond the Rat. Raymond is the intellectual of the group. You can tell because he wears glasses.
Fats the Fuse is the comedy relief. He's fat, he's wimpy, he's dumb, and he likes to suggest explosives as the solution to every obstacle.
These three rats have been living in the cinema for some time, engaging in petty larceny involving popcorn machines and candy bars. Margin decides they're ready for something bigger. The Big Time. Something on the Outside, a place no rat has ever returned from alive. But Marvin has courage and daring. He hitches a ride in a knitting bag and does a bit of exploring. Imagine his excitement upon discovering a cheese shop four doors down. No doubt about it: The Cheese Barrel is a prime target for an experienced gang of rats. Filled with cheese and nothing guarding it save for the plump owner (Deemed 'The Enemy' by Marvin)
Don't go no further, kid, unless you're ready for the spoils.
Upon returning to the cinema, Marvin informs his gang of the wondrous opportunity, and they all agree, this is worth going after. Fats wants to blast their way in with explosives, but Raymond presents them with a better idea: breaking in once and running off with all they can carry would be nice, but infiltration is better. If they can acquire permanent access to the joint, they can waltz in there any time they'd like. Marvin and Raymond decide that the gang should enter the shop in disguise.
The first entry fails. They get in, but their popcorn box disguise gets taken outside and tossed in the trash before they can do anything. Strike one.
Their second attempt is more sophisticated. Raymond believes he spotted the key to the shop last time, so Marvin sneaks in at night in order to retrieve it. This time, though, he discovers something they'd missed: a Cat. Though Marvin escapes this time (without the key), it's apparent that something had to be done. Raymond constructs a cat trap involving pulleys and a garbage can in the alley behind the shop. Unfortunately, Marvin (the bait) ends up getting trapped instead. But in this attempt, they discover that the cat (Giovanni) is hard of hearing. So a heist is still possible so long as it's quiet. Fats suggests explosives. Marvin suggests gnawing a small hole in the back door. Since this plan is quieter, and Marvin is the leader, the gnawing plan is what they go for, and after a lot of work, they finally make their way inside, where they quietly fill their sacks. Unfortunately, Fats decides to fill his belly as well, and can no longer fit through the hole to get back out. In the process of pulling him through, Marvin sets off the burglar alarm, and the police arrive followed presently by The Enemy.
The Enemy takes them inside and seeing them looking repentant and ashamed (at Marvin's quick advice), decides to keep them. From then on, the rats live in a cheese carton and are fed all the cheese they can eat by The Former Enemy, Mr. Sammartino. It's the easy life.
But it's not the life for Marvin. He decides to leave to do bigger things, whatever they may be. But don't worry, he'll be back for Raymond and Fats in the next book. He can't knock over Macy's by himself.
There's a 'next book'?
Indeed, and a next next book. And so on. Second in the series is The Great Christmas Kidnapping Caper (1975) in which the rats move in to Macy's and rescue a kidnapped Santa Claus and third is The Great Rescue Operation (1982) in which they rescue Fats from the person who bought the dollhouse he'd been sleeping in. Forth in the series is The Great Summer Camp Catastrophe (1992) in which they get swept off to a Summer camp. Fifth is The Great Googlestein Museum Mystery (2003) in which they visit the Guggenheim Museum.