"To Catch A Thief" jumps right into the middle of the action at the beginning of the novel. It is August 1951, and the police are coming to arrest John Robie, an American living on the Cote d'Azure. He escapes from his villa by making an amazing leap over his garden wall and goes on the run.
We then get explanation for these events, which takes us back before W.W. II. John Robie was a notorious jewel thief called "Le Chat". Over the course of several years, he pulled off many jewel heists along the French Riviera in daring burglaries utilizing his amazing agility, climbing, and jumping abilities. Le Chat is so successful- and his feats so seemingly impossible- that he becomes famous, but is caught in 1939 when one of his fences betrays him. Put on trial, he is convicted and sent to prison, where he remains for about a year until the Nazis invade France in 1940.
Meanwhile, using his expert knowledge, John has planned out how to rob Mrs. Stevens, the Sanfords, and the Souzas. On site, he can keep an eye on Mrs.Stevens, and he and Bellini recruit six other former Maquisards to watch the residences of the two couples, with John telling them exactly what to watch for. They agree to help for two reasons: they, too, are threatened by the activities of the thief, and John promises that, if they catch him, they can have the reward promised by Mr.Paige to split among themselves.