Something Missing (Paperback)

By Matthew Dicks

Broadway Books, 9780767930888, 292pp.

Publication Date: July 14, 2009

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Description

A career criminal with OCD tendencies and a savant-like genius for bringing order to his crime scenes, Martin considers himself one of the best in the biz. After all, he's been able to steal from the same people for years on end--virtually undetected. Of course, this could also be attributed to his unique business model--he takes only items that will go unnoticed by the homeowner. After all, who in their right mind would miss a roll of toilet paper here, a half-used bottle of maple syrup there, or even a rarely used piece of china buried deep within a dusty cabinet?

Even though he's never met these homeowners, he's spent hours in their houses, looking through their photo albums and reading their journals. In essence, Martin has developed a friendship of sorts with them and as such, he decides to interfere more in their lives--playing the part of a rather odd guardian angel--even though it means breaking many of his twitchy neurotic rules.

Along the way Martin not only improves the lives of others, but he also discovers love and finds that his own life is much better lived on the edge (at least some of the time) in this hilarious, suspenseful and often profound novel about a man used to planning every second of his life, suddenly forced to confront chaos and spontaneity.


About the Author

MATTHEW DICKS lives in Newington, Connecticut. This is his first novel.


Praise For Something Missing

"Who wants to catch a thief when he's as endearing as Martin Railsback, the oddball hero of Matthew Dicks's first novel, SOMETHING MISSING? Martin is, after all, prone to rob people of items they'll never miss (a bar of soap, a few sticks of butter, the odd diamond) as a way of getting to know them. Despite his obsessive-compulsive work ethic, Martin manages to get himself in trouble over a toothbrush--but not before we've decided to let him in next time he calls"--New York Times Book Review


"Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003)is about a young, autistic amateur sleuth. Monk is a popular television series about a detective with an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This debut novel introduces us to a character who appears to have elements of autism and OCD, but here’s the twist: he’s a professional criminal. Martin Railsback is a housebreaker with a short list of “clients” from whom he’s been “acquiring” things for years. He makes regular visits to their homes, cataloging their possessions, tracking their purchases, learning their lives. Most of his thefts are small–food from the pantry, toiletries, books of stamps. Only occasionally, and only after a great deal of precise preparation, will he help himself to an object of actual monetary value. And here’s another interesting thing about Martin: when one of his clients gets into a sticky situation, Martin will risk his own safety to help them out of their jam, even if being a hero means he may have to come into actual, physical contact with a client. This is a splendid novel, written with loving attention to character and detail; Martin is so vividly realized that he threatens to step off the page and into the reader’s own living room. A loopier Bernie Rhodenbarr? A less lethal Dexter? Martin falls somewhere in between, but with a little word of mouth and some shrewd promotion, he could be the next big thing." -- Booklist, starred review

"Sometimes we're skeptical about debut novels: Can this guy pull it off on his first try? The answer for Matthew Dicks' Something Missing is an unqualified 'YES!' Dicks has dreamed up an unusual premise and twisted it so that the reader is rootting for 'the bad guy.'...Read Something Missing this summer and join the fun as Martin's life and crimes become more than he ever imagine."--The Free Lance-Star

"
[T]he obsessive-compulsive Martin Railsback is a strange but lovable anti-hero."--Boston Globe

"Dicks combines the neurotic atmosphere of a Woody Allen film wiht the light touch of Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr novels (The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart, 1995, etc) in a unique debut. The fantastically bizarre leading man, obsessive-compulsive Marin Railsback, specializes in stealing things that no one notices have gone missing. Early on, Martin's vengeful, meticulous replacement of his abusive stepfather's prized baseball card led him to his rule-driven life of crim. 'If the missing item will be noticed, don't acquire it,' is his first imperative, while his second requires a rigid awareness of his victims sense of perception: 'When items go missing in a house, the suspicion of theft occurs only if the possibility of a thief exists.' Martin supplements his part-time job as a barista by stealing toilet paper, groceries and other necessities from wealthy suburban 'clients,' as well as auctioning off their detritus on eBay. Dicks expertly crafts the setup, showing us Martin's deep-seated need for stability and routine, then turning his world on its head when the compulsive thief accidentally knocks a client's toothbrush into the toilet. This necessitates a nerve-racking, breathless mission to replace it--while its owner is home, no less. Turning a philosophical corner, Martin embarks on an altruistic mission, trying to make his clients' lives a little better without their knowledge and risking his own tenuous subsistence in the bargain. A very funny adventure about the mechanics of burglary and the fragility of an orderly life."--Kirkus Reviews

“A quirky and endearing first novel that makes you wonder if that misplaced stick of butter or can of soup means there’s a burglar prowling your pantry. If that thief is Martin Railsback, you might be glad. He’s the kind of burglar you could conceivably want in your house.” —M. Ann Jacoby, author of Life After Genius

“A funny, suspenseful and thoroughly original debut that will keep you up to the wee hours flipping pages.” —David Rosen, author of I Just Want My Pants Back



Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com

  1. Discuss the novel's title. What is missing from Martin's life? What is missing in the lives of his clients?
  2. Traditionally, a client is someone who asks for services. Why do you think Martin views his victims as clients? What services does he provide?
  3. What do Martin's obsessive-compulsive tendencies say about his emotional state? Besides the practical reasons, what are the common emotional threads running throughout his various rules (such as acquiring only items that won't be missed, and never falling into a routine for entering and exiting)? Why is he drawn to a profession that makes him invisible?
  4. How did your impressions of Martin shift throughout the novel?
  5. In chapter two, Martin meets Alfredo, the Grants' parrot. What makes Alfredo the ideal new friend for Martin?
  6. How did you react to the excess possessions of Martin's clients? Did you see it as waste or as enviable abundance when the Reeds disposed of their uneaten fresh produce, or when the Grants accumulated a hutch full of unused china, crystal, and silverware?
  7. Would you have gone to the trouble of replacing Cindy Clayton's toothbrush with a clean one? Why does Martin?
  8. Chapter five describes Martin's triumphs on eBay (spurred when he invents "Barbara Teal") and his obsession with creating a perfect business model. As a scavenger, does Martin in some ways follow the traditional principles of successful corporations?
  9. When Martin sends the note to Alan Clayton at the end of chapter six, he very likely saves a marriage. Why was Alan so blind to one of the most intimate aspects of his own life?
  10. Why does Martin feel so compelled to help Justine Ashley keep her husband's party a surprise? What accounts for the level of involvement he feels with so many of his clients?
  11. Discuss Martin's relationship with his mother and stepfather, and his reunion with his father. How did his childhood affect his sense of self-worth? How would you respond if one of your grown children took household items from you without permission?
  12. When Martin rescues Sophie and Sherman Pearl, he opens the door to a new life. How did the reality of meeting them (after circumstances that resembled Jim's lateral-thinking riddle) compare to his fantasy of them? What is it like for him to experience an honest conversation with Sophie? How would you have reacted to his story if you had been in her shoes?
  13. How did you feel about the security of your own home after reading Something Missing? Will you think twice the next time something turns up missing?
  14. What do you predict for Martin's future with Laura Green?
  15. If you were going to pursue Martin's profession, which houses in your neighborhood would you want to "investigate"? Whose house are you most curious about?
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