Martin Railback is a serial thief, and his "clients" have no idea they're being robbed. Martin Railback breaks into homes in suburban Connecticut to steal things from his victims he thinks they do not need. He has devised a systematic method to ensure he does not get caught. He does not steal from the super rich, or people with roommates (they are too sensitive to missing items), nor does he steal from single people. He likes couples (with no kids) because one can assume it was the other mate who used the last bit of tomato sauce or carton of eggs. For every house he robs, he catalogs the contents of the home (with the camera on his mobile), starting with the refrigerator. He has built up a hit list of many homes in the area, spending his days unnoticed stealing stuff. He likes the residences of the comfortably upper middle class, and he prides himself on the fact that none of his "clients" has ever noticed anything gone missing. Martin does not steal big ticket items (only if he is sure it will go unnoticed).
There are rules to Martin's thievery. He never steals stuff people would obviously miss. Martin likes to observe the quirks of the people he steals from, what kind of toothpaste they use, the last time they menstruated, and even what they write in their private journals and emails. When he is not breaking into people's houses, he longs for the waitress at the restaurant where he goes to eat breakfast. When he orders a meal from Jillian, he pretends they are on a date. Martin has a friend named Jeff who does not know about his proclivity to break into houses.
Martin lives in a house owned by his dead mother (a little bit creepy, I know -- but this entire book is creepy). He stores items he has stolen in a locked room in the house and spends the hours he is not stealing selling the stuff on Ebay. He has taken on the online persona of a woman who likes handbags to go undetected. We learn through a flashback that Martin began his life of thieving when he was a young adult. He was broke, hungry, and with a clogged toilet. He had gone to his mother's house (when he thought no one was home) and steals stuff (food and liquid plumber, I think) because he is a hungry college kid. His stepfather catches him. It makes you wonder why he never felt safe in asking his family for help. After the incident he vows to never get caught stealing again.
Martin's routine is disrupted when he inadvertently drops Cindy Clayton's (one of his client's) electric toothbrush in the toilet bowl. Horrified that if he replaces the toothbrush (even if he washes it with hot water), Cindy will be unwittingly brushing her teeth with a tainted brush, but if he steals the brush, she will notice it missing. Faced with this moral conundrum, Martin plans to buy an identical toothbrush to replace the one that fell into the toilet bowl. In a rush with time, he rushes out to buy a replacement from the drug store. After a series of failed attempts, he finally gets the toothbrush to replace the one that had fallen in the toilet. He goes back to the Clayton's home, but when he has finished the switcheroo, the Claytons have already returned home. In a panic, Martin barely escapes (after a series of funny near-misses).
The incident with the toothbrush unnerves Martin. But it also triggers a series of events that lead to the novel's conclusion. Martin becomes more involved in his clients' lives. He leaves an anonymous note with Alan Clayton, Cindy's husband, suggesting he give his wife flowers. And, while robbing another client's house (the Ashley's), he becomes involved again. This time preventing the possibility that the husband may find out about a surprise birthday party. Laren Greene, a friend, had thought the party had already happened, and left a message on the Ashley's machine. Wanting to protect all the work the wife had done to give a surprise party for her husband, Martin does all kinds of things to help the couple out, which eventually, through a series of events, lands him in contact with Lauren Green. In another turn of events, they go on a date together and seem to like each other.
Meanwhile, Martin finds out that there is another intruder on his turf, Cliver Darrow. Martin had stolen a diamond from the house of Sophie Pearl. He only rarely steals big ticket items like this, but he had decided through meticulous research that this was a safe steal. Now, Clive Darrow is casing Sophie Pearl's house. Martin aims to stop him. He breaks into Darrow's home, and upon inspection of the house, concludes nothing. But on a hunch he finds Darrow's car parked near the Pearl's house. He enters the Pearl house and finds that Clive Darrow had tied up Sherman Pearl, the husband. Martin discovers Darrow and they fight, and tumble down the stairs. Darrow is unconscious. Martin's hand is cut. Martin discovers that Sophie Pearl has been gagged and in her bedroom. Martin calls 911 and is pleased with himself that Clive Darrow will be caught and the Pearl's will be safe.
Martin goes to the hospital to get treated (claiming his injury is an accident). Martin then repatches his relationship with his father, and seems to get on well with his girlfriend Lauren Greene, who encourages him to write his novel.
Sophie Pearl, in a complicated detective game of her own, discovers that Martin Railback had been in her home, but she does not turn him in. She surprises Martin one day when he discovers her sitting on his couch. Sophie forgives him. Martin is redeemed. We assume this ends his life of thievery.
Best part of story, including ending:
I liked the premise of the story, a guy who is good at heart, but who turns to a life of crime (that no one notices). I thought the novel did not lift off from this original premise and we never get to see what makes Martin the way that he is (except for brief flashbacks). The novel too neatly turns into a romance that I felt sidestepped the more interesting aspects of the story.
Best scene in story:
I like the scene where he is trapped in the house when one of his clients returns home unexpected. Even though I know Martin should not be stealing people's stuff, I could not help but root for him and hoped he wouldn't get caught. It was funny to see him try to wiggle his way out of the home unnoticed, when it is usually the other way around. It was a good scene that made us see Martin vulnerable.
Opinion about the main character:
I like how even though Martin Railback is a thief, he is presented as a decent human being. Also, Martin has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (or is he on the Autism Spectrum?) which also makes the novel interesting.