Mar 24 2011

Adrian Monk Meets Boo Radley: Something Missing, by Matthew Dicks [Review]

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Martin, the peculiar hero of Something Missing, is a burglar by profession, but not just that. Martin is a master burglar, who robs the same house again and again over the course of years or decades and never gets caught because, and here is the brilliance of his scheme: he only steals things people won’t miss anyway. Six bars of soap in the linen closet? Make that five. An unopened bottle of drain cleaner under the kitchen sink for months? Just the thing. A single dishtowel gone missing? That was probably Martin’s work.

Martin’s is an orderly and meticulous mind: he carefully researches his “clients” to find just the right fit (dog-owners are out!), and plans his thefts over the course of many, many illicit trips into the house. By taking digital photos of the refrigerator, the pantry, the china cabinet, the silver drawer, the jewelry box, he works out over time what gets used and what doesn’t, what will be missed, and what won’t. The book opens with him stealing the second earring of a matched pair: he stole the first one (but only the one) six months previously so the owner would assume she’d lost it somewhere. After all, what thief would only steal a single earring, right? Once the second is allowed to languish without its twin in the bottom of the jewelry box and thus be forgotten, Martin can safely snag it and finally sell off the pair on eBay using his cover identity of a middle-aged shopaholic housewife who’s forever selling off “last year’s treasures.”

All of this long-term, intimate research of the people he refers to as his clientele has, over time, instilled in the lonely and repressed Martin a certain proprietary feeling towards them. When he stops burgling a household, say because they have a child (couples with children are unsuitable for various reasons, not the least of which is that it adds unpredictability into their lives), Martin feels like he’s losing a long-term friend. And what’s more, as time goes on, he finds himself becoming a sort of guardian angel; he starts by befriending a talkative parrot, but progresses into an anonymous and unknown sort-of-askew Mary Poppins who patches up domestic unhappiness and makes sure surprise parties go unspoiled. With few friends and even fewer family members of his own, he has become an unrequited adopter of the people he makes his living mooching from.

However, much to his dismay, the more he gets involved, the more his life goes off the rails. His chessmaster-like planning goes out the window as he starts reacting to crises and he finds himself hiding in closets, chased by (shudder!) dogs, and falling in love. And when he finds that one of his best clients is being stalked by someone with all of Martin’s skill but much more sinister intentions, everything in Martin’s life is turned upside down.

The Good

Something Missing is a breezy, enjoyable book, and Martin is both a very likeable and surprisingly relatable protagonist. Intelligent and introverted, Martin may be a shade anti-social but he’s not a sociopath. If anything, it’s his extreme sensitivity to the feelings of others that’s led him to his peculiar line of work. Not being versed on the ways of burglary myself, I don’t know how much of the equipment and techniques Martin employs are real, but they’re certainly convincing and well thought-out. And of course there’s a lot of suspense: once Martin starts varying from his pre-planned strategies and controlled situations, he keeps finding himself deeper and deeper in unfamiliar and dangerous territory which escalates every time. A chatty parrot who keeps calling him rude names seems like the least of Martin’s worries by the time he faces off against his malevolent counterpart. Themes of redemption and grace quietly underpin the story without making a fuss about themselves, making Martin’s very moving transformation over the course of the book both inevitable and desired.

The Bad

I can’t think of any real criticisms to this book. It does take a little time to get into the meat of the story: the first major “plot point” doesn’t really occur until roughly the 50% mark, but there is enough happening with setting the groundwork of Martin’s character, establishing and illustrating his techniques and patterns, and foreshadowing the events of later in the book that you never really feel like there’s nothing going on. Something Missing isn’t a Life-Changing Masterwork, perhaps, but it has not ambitions to be. It’s a fun, enjoyable read about an interesting protagonist, and considers that to be enough.

The Ugly

As I’ve been doing with so many books recently, I read this via the Kindle app on my iPad: and like everything I’ve read this way, there are the rare few spurious line breaks or superfluous hyphens. But there’s nothing wrong with the writing itself. Readers may find the conspicuous appearance of brand names for everything to be jarring: Stop And Shop, Liquid Plumbr, Rice-A-Roni. It’s a deliberate device the author uses to illustrate Martin’s character: Martin is very specific about every little detail, including the particular brand of any item he may come in contact with. But after a while it reads like product placements, particularly as most modern readers have been trained to hear about generic items rather than specific ones. It isn’t a real problem, but it does stick out and once you notice it you can’t stop seeing it every time it happens.

The Final Verdict

Something Missing is a fun book and I recommend it to anyone who is intelligent, introverted, or has inclinations towards benevolent larceny. It’s a fast read, but one that rewards paying attention to the details. If nothing else, it will make you a bit more aware of your home security…

-The Gneech

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