The Face Thief revolves around the life of Margot, a fraudster and a con woman, a protagonist who is driven by the sadness in her past to cheat, lie, and flirt her way to a better future. During the narrative, we encounter just three of a long line of men she’s seduced and used. We watch as her actions, and their stupidity and masculine pride, lead to the unravelling of love lives, financial power, and dignity. As seems inevitable throughout the novel, all of these strands collide as Margot’s trail of destruction ends in multiple minor tragedies.
The novel is fraught with thriller clichés. There’s the femme fatale, a case of amnesia, the rich and powerful mope finally outwitted by a seemingly harmless woman, the clever cop turned stupid, the guy who loves his wife and mother but just can’t resist the fluttering eyelids of a girl with an ample bosom. We even have the financial jargon that seems so popular since the success of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But with Gottlieb, we also have a very capable writer, a man whose prose, despite the occasional tendency to over-dramatise, is tight and inviting. Gottlieb seems very adept at making his reader turn the page, even though anyone whose read other thrillers, or watched films of a similar ilk, knows that the plot they’re following is never far from the tried and tested.
There seems to also be an attempt at some kind of psychological evaluation within this narrative. Again, slightly clichéd, but Gottlieb seems to present the difficult relationship Margot had with her dad, and the early hurt she suffered after falling in love with a teacher, as reason for her propensity to sexual coercion. On nearly every page, Margot is using her breasts, her hips, or her lips, to gain what she wants from men. The novel, though, is never successful in creating a cohesive and believable link between her troubled past and the actions she undertakes in the present. Unfortunately, this negates any hope of sympathy for the protagonist and prevents the book from ever becoming more than a standard thriller.
Any Cop? Due to the combination of the occasional great sentence and Gottlieb’s ability to create a structure which always keeps the reader guessing, this novel has a little more life to it than the plot and characters really deserve. A solid and readable thriller, but far from spectacular.