Others might see a crumbling 150-year-old row house as a headache, but Sophie Porter, protagonist of the new novel The Objects of Her Affection, sees it as an opportunity. The wife and mother of two is convinced the fixer-upper—spacious, charming and within walking distance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where her husband Brian works as a decorative arts curator—will be the perfect home. Published by Sourcebooks Landmark and available Aug. 12, the book is the debut novel of writer Sonya Cobb, 44, who lives in New York's Westchester County.

Soon after Sophie purchases the would-be house of her dreams, her visions of neatly restored interiors are replaced by realities of ballooning mortgage payments and mounting debt, placing her smack in the middle of the U.S. housing crisis. Determined to keep her beloved home out of foreclosure, Sophie takes an unexpected leap: she begins stealing and selling objects from the collection of her husband's museum.

"The stuff was sitting there for the taking—unwanted, uncared for," Sophie observes. Taking advantage of the access granted to her as a curator's wife, she smuggles uncatalogued mirrors, snuff boxes and silver figurines out of the cluttered museum offices by hiding them in her children's diaper bag and stroller. A shady Manhattan antiques dealer offers Sophie hefty sums for the pilfered pieces, seemingly solving her family's money woes. Hooked on "the strange, exciting rush of fear that [feels] like the mirror of desire," Sophie struggles to stop stealing, even as the FBI closes in.

A curator's wife makes for an unlikely art thief, but Cobb knows this character well. Cobb is herself married to Pierre Terjanian, head of the arms and armor department at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. After realizing that the novel bore more than a passing resemblance to their real lives, her husband—formerly a decorative arts curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art—asked, "Are you trying to get me fired?"

On the book's plot, Cobb offers: "Some of this story was inspired by my own journey as a working mother. Some of it was inspired by my behind-the-scenes access to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But most of it—the really fun stuff, anyway—is entirely fictional."