I’m not sure what to make of Something Missing, and I don’t know if I’ll want to read any more books by Matthew Dicks, but I enjoyed it if only because it was so very different. It’s worth reading the summary:
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.
This makes it sound like a quirkier read than it is, because even though it’s light and occasionally funny, the use of “spontaneity” makes it sound like some exuberant life lesson about how mental illness can be overcome by not being mentally ill anymore, and that’s not the case. The few moments that are meant to be dramatic and emotional in fact come off very stilted, but that’s not why you’re here. You start out for the gimmick of a professional thief who steals household items from the same people over and over, and stay for his distinctively pedantic voice.
Martin is almost like an unreliable narrator, in that the things he does start to seem quite reasonable, but there’s no twist or secret he’s hiding like in most unreliable-narrator stories. I never quite lost that “home invasion” discomfort, and yet the book was oddly comforting to me. I have generalized anxiety, and I’m constantly making lists, mentally planning my next steps, scripting casual conversation ahead of time. The incredible detail and specificity of all Martin’s activities, the painstaking order and predictability of his life, was very soothing to me. (In retrospect, I think it’s the same pleasure I got out of books like The Boxcar Children and Island of the Blue Dolphins as a child — I always loved descriptions of how characters store things and go about their daily operations.)
I don’t have OCD, though, so I don’t know if a person with OCD would get that same benefit, and that nagged at me through the whole book. By using this book to soothe myself, am I somehow benefiting from other people’s distress? I haven’t been able to find out if Matthew Dicks has OCD online and haven’t seen any commentary on the subject, presumably because the book isn’t widespread enough for people to feel a need to comment, although Dicks has several books out that seem reasonably successful (and that are also about people with compulsive disorders and/or autism). I was nervous enough about this that I almost decided not to review it since I didn’t know what to say, but I finally decided to just share what I thought and see if anyone else had an opinion.
Lastly, the pacing. In my examination of Goodreads reviews looking for stuff about OCD, a lot of people mentioned the pacing. It’s definitely slow for the first third, picks up a bit in the second third, and races to a finish, but that really worked for me. Again, this isn’t a mystery, and you’re not here for an emotional journey, you’re here to experience what Martin experiences. The pace of the first parts mean that when Martin stumbles into unexpected divergences from his routine, it’s legitimately startling and we grasp how big of a deal it is for him to have an unplanned conversation. I’m not nearly at his level of predictability, but I get that feeling, so I value this book’s recreation of the experience for others.
CN: Attempted rape (by another character, not the POV character, but the major theme of act three)