The Short Version: Margot takes a tumble down a flight of marble stairs, nearly dying in the process. Meanwhile, two men deal with the intrusion of an intriguing and potentially dangerous woman into their otherwise mundane lives. It is, of course, the very same woman – and who was it who pushed her?
The Review: This book feels like an introduction to me. It feels like a prologue – like a prequel made ten years after the original movie that didn’t really need to be made because you were already familiar enough with the character that you didn’t need that background “how they got started” story. It was better in your head. Except this is the first novel featuring this character, Margot. So this is our first introduction to her and while she is interesting and engaging enough that I could certainly see her sticking around, I’m not sure that the book itself has much to truly recommend itself.
A review I read mentioned Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels in comparison to this one – now, I haven’t read any of them but I saw the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley and so I see the resemblance. This is what I mean when I say that Mr. Gottlieb could undoubtedly take this book and turn it into a series, featuring our anti-hero conning her way around the world. But the problem is, there’s just something lacking.
The book is well-written – I mean, it flies by and you can’t write that if you aren’t a talented writer. To truly write a book that nearly flies out of your hands, not for want of “what happens next” (that’s another, higher skill) but simply for the propulsive beat underneath the words (like a really good song that gets you dancing before you even realize it)… that’s a skill and Mr. Gottlieb has it. The book demands to be read quickly – to take your time with it would do a disservice. That’s why I read it in approximately 24 hours. Sometimes that sort of thing happens.
But there’s a flaw in this book, one that would make me hesitate before returning to Margot’s story or even another novel written by Mr. Gottlieb: the characters themselves. Margot is, so far as I can tell, super-sexy and confident and a bit of a sociopath man-eater. She had a terrible childhood with a drunk of a father – but that’s not enough to justify her apparent need to ruin men. I felt like I missed a piece of the story at some point and that’s… well, that’s a bummer. Because I wanted that justification. I wanted to understand who Margot was – because it felt like (if this is the origin story ‘prequel’ that we might not’ve gotten in another universe where her story goes on) I wasn’t going to get another chance. From here on, Margot would be this known quantity. So why didn’t the author take the opportunity to flesh her out a bit more?
The coolest thing about the novel is the amount of knowledge Gottlieb brings to the table regarding faces and body language. It’s a supremely interesting field and such a widely ignored one. We betray so much with our body language and our expressions – even the most talented actors have to try to be something other than they are (and that’s exactly why they’re so talented). Our author clearly did his research and so it’s quite fun to hear the characters talk about their abilities and for the reader to see those abilities in action. Considering the fact that the plot is a bit of a non-starter (it’s obviously from pretty early on who ends up pushing her and how the stories all connect), that’s the most unique and interesting talking point about the novel – and one that can be taken so much further, should the author be so inclined.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5. Maybe I’m making it up – maybe this is a one-off novel. But if that’s the case, I’m actually less inclined to like it. The book gets an extra half star from me because it has promise. There’s something interesting and intriguing and I’d like to see it taken further. There aren’t enough sexy con-women in the world. But if Margot comes back and we get to see her put her skills to use in a more exciting and interesting (i.e. less expository) way… well, that could be a lot of fun.
Anyway, I have to thank Harper Collins for shooting me an advance copy of this book. It was a fun, if sort of ho-hum, read and I do hope to see what happens next!