The Face Thief

The Face Thief

3.5 7
by Eli Gottlieb

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Eli Gottlieb’s previous novel, Now You See Him, was acclaimed by reviewers as “irresistible … moving” (New York Times Book Review), “a triumph…of literary suspense” (Los Angeles Times), and “gorgeous” (USA Today). With The Face Thief, he returns with a driving, compulsively

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Eli Gottlieb’s previous novel, Now You See Him, was acclaimed by reviewers as “irresistible … moving” (New York Times Book Review), “a triumph…of literary suspense” (Los Angeles Times), and “gorgeous” (USA Today). With The Face Thief, he returns with a driving, compulsively readable novel that probes the wellsprings of human greed and loyalty beset by temptation.

Gottlieb introduces the mystery of the charismatic Margot, a promising journalist who morphs—with stunning panache—from a high-achieving affluent twentysomething into a grifter making her living preying on the weaknesses of men. Having studied the ancient Chinese art of face reading, she becomes an expert at reading people and is also able to rearrange her look and persona with uncanny skill to fit any social situation. She is an avenging angel, shattering marriages and draining bank accounts.

What drives her quest to deceive and disarm? Exploring this question, The Face Thief moves fluidly forward and back in time, drawing vivid portraits of Margot’s rocky childhood and her adult victims: an amiable, newly married man enticed into a catastrophic fraud; an esteemed teacher outwitted by his most dangerous student; and a well-meaning New York City cop tripped up by his belief in redemption.

Ingeniously constructed and exquisitely written, The Face Thief swirls a hypnotic dance of predator and prey, creating a contemporary landscape where the educated are violent, the beautiful ugly, and the well-intentioned hapless. And yet we never give way to despair, because the protagonists of the book push back against the maelstrom and attempt tirelessly to right their toppled lives. Rich in suspense, psychological depth, and nuance, The Face Thief confirms Gottlieb’s standing as “a master” (Denver Post) and, in the words of essayist Phillip Lopate, “an enthralling stylist who[se] . . . characters are shockingly, electrically alive.”

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Editorial Reviews

Eli Gottlieb's The Face Thief opens with a hurtling descent — a woman falls down a lengthy staircase — and ends with a smooth takeoff as her transatlantic flight leaves New York. We don't know, until the novel's denouement, how she fell or whether she was pushed. We are never told where her flight will land. But between these two events, Gottlieb constructs a sublime thriller that might have been subtitled "A portrait of the con artist as a young woman." On a deeper level (and there are many) The Face Thief is also an elegant and profound novel of memory, perception, and reinvention.

"The real reason we have faces," Margot Lassiter observes, "is to hold back what we're thinking from the world." Margot's business is deception, and Gottlieb, appropriately, reveals her life in fragments as he advances the plot in flashbacks, causing time to stutter as it loops back on itself. This is how Margot's damaged memory returns, gradually and fitfully, as she recovers from her fall in hospital and rehab, under the eye of a besotted cop. Yet Gottlieb never indulges his cleverness. We are not dazzled by his style. We are instead seduced, from the moment that Margot sights the first of two victims, men we come to know intimately as she reels them in and leaves them floundering.

She meets Lawrence Billings at a seminar he leads on "The Physique of Finance: The Art of Face Reading and Body Language for Professional Advantage." (Gottlieb's ear for business- inspirational rhetoric is flawless). Billings, fifty-three and married, has a gift for decoding human behavior. "Even as a boy, he'd understood the commonness of lying. People did it as naturally as singing." But Margot, a young volunteer from the audience who soon requests private instruction, teaches Billings a new lesson in the old game of seduction and extortion. "She leaned toward him?. He was feeling his own thoughts turning slow, syrupy?" Billings will pay, of course, and far more than he imagines.

John Potash is, for Margot, an easier mark. Middle-aged and blissfully remarried in California, he wants to believe that his substantial nest egg will be significantly enhanced when invested in the firm represented by "Janelle Styles." Greenleaf, after all, is not some hedge fund but "?a consortium of forward-seeking investment advisers and analysts from elite business schools who roamed the world seeking the latest cutting-edge sustainable products."

Gottlieb so deftly directs the parallel dramas of Billings and Potash that each has the compressed urgency of a short story. The textures of his characters' lives — of even minor characters such as Potash's mother in the Bronx or the eccentric P.I. he hires — rise off the page with tactile intensity. Potash opens "the heavy vault of the fridge door..." A bedside television flickers and drones on "?for hours without consequence, like a drunk at a bar." Then there is Margot — one of crime fiction's most mesmerizing grifters — reinventing herself first as a Smith College student, then as a Manhattan style magazine "editor at large...superalert, usually in heels, and gunning it, hard." Gottlieb draws us so completely into Margot's mind and the minds of her prey that the identity of a possible avenger (remember those stairs?) seems almost incidental. But he leaves no loose ends as he smoothly accelerates into the final curve, where deed and consequence silkily merge.

Anna Mundow writes "The Interview" and the "Historical Novels" columns for The Boston Globe and is a contributor to The Irish Times.

Reviewer: Anna Mundow

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.76(w) x 8.54(h) x 0.92(d)

What People are saying about this

Francine Prose
“Psychological depth and mystery cast in great sentences: the result is a suspenseful, beautifully achieved example of what happens when a serious novelist wants us to keep turning the pages.”
Walter Kirn
“A dark libido animates this novel that can’t be resisted. The reward is an intimate literary encounter with a force that is beyond good and evil, and turns the mystical screws behind our unfathomable human destinies.”

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The Face Thief 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
LiterarylionSB More than 1 year ago
The Face Thief pushes you down the stairs on the first page and never lets you get your feet under you. Extraordinary characters are at the heart of a very believable series of events. The story shifts back and forth between the three main characters points of view. Eli Gottlieb expertly guides you though the minds and emotions of the people who drive this crafty psychological thriller. Love, parenting, relationships, temptation, money, and even green living are explored in an honest voice that doesn't take sides. This is a must read for your reading group.
Heart2Heart More than 1 year ago
The perfect criminal is one who can read the body language and facial features of their victim and that is just the premise for the latest book from Eli Gottlieb, The Face Thief. The book revolves around the lives of three people involving a series of circumstances with a common thread. The more you know about a person, the better it enables you to gain the upper hand. If you can define someone simply by how they carry themselves and what their face tells you that their words don't can be very beneficial if you know how to read them. Margot is a promising up and coming journalist who wants to gain the advantage in the business world in learning to read faces and define the subtle movements our body language portrays. She hopes it may give her the advantage she will need to climb the corporate ladder in the competitive world of journalism where being a female may be the disadvantage. So when she signs up to take a course designed by the expert in reading body languages and faces, she gets more than she ever thought she would. Lawrence Billings has made a name for himself as a best selling author and successful business man now leading seminars discussing The Physique of Finance: The Art of Face Reading and Body Language for Professional Advantage. He always had unique gift of seeing things others missed and now it was paying off in a big way at fifty three and still married to Glynis even after his indiscretions. Life was perfect until Margot showed up in his class. Things were about to change and not in the way he would have expected. John Potash has finally struck gold. When Janell Styles of Greenleaf Financial calls and offers him the best investment opportunity of a lifetime, one he's been waiting for his whole life, he takes a chance after his initial investments have returned better than expected returns. Now just when his personal life has finally settled down after a recent divorce, he plans to invest in their future in a very big way. However life isn't always what we expect despite how we may think we have it all figured out. I received The Face Thief by Eli Gottlieb compliments of William Morrow, a division of Harper Collins for my honest review. This book really does have quite a few twists and turns and until about half way through I didn't realize what was happening with the three different story lines in the book, however now looking back I could see how it all played out. As a reader, keeping that in mind, it will make the book much more enjoyable knowing that when you begin and throughout the book, you will find the pattern that shows how they all interconnect without realizing it. I would rate this book a 4 out of 5 stars for that reason. It deals with preying upon peoples trust and weakness to make a fast buck no matter what the cost and having the best tools on hand can make it that much easier.
Bwitchd3 More than 1 year ago
This book has a very interesting plot. The idea that you can tell almost everything about a person by inadvertent signs and signals is both fascinating and dangerous. Margot is able to bend these men to her mercy by using this skill, which shows that when put in the wrong hands, it can be hazardous. The characters are interesting and rounded enough for the reader to either like or dislike. The only downside to this book is that the writing itself is a little stiff and leans toward the pretentious side. It’s not difficult to get passed that, however, if you are interested in the subject matter. With a realistic ending that leaves everyone hanging, it’s definitely worth a look.
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