“The Face Thief” leaves no lasting impression

Sara Benner

A woman finds herself falling down a staircase after somebody brutally pushes her. An expert in body language finds a new student who seems to know almost as much about the skill as he does, if not more. Another man finds himself making a huge gamble that, if successful, would make him and his wife wealthier than they could have ever possibly dreamed. These stories seem unrelated, but readers beginning “The Face Thief” by Eli Gottlieb know that somehow they will come together before the end.

And come together they do, though by the time that occurs, most readers will have long figured out how. Unfortunately, the characters aren’t interesting enough to overcome the sheer predictability of the narrative. Gottlieb uses most of his words to explore what the characters are thinking, and they are ultimately more interesting for who and what they are than how they think. The concept of a body language expert is intriguing, but the particular one in this book isn’t.

Despite all of this, “The Face Thief” is never dull and there’s something about it that demands just one more chapter before bed. Gottlieb’s a good enough writer to grab the reader and make them wonder what will happen next, even after the ending’s been figured out.

Additionally, the book’s structure, broken into three chapter sets — one for each story line — adds suspense, because right when the reader becomes involved in what will happen to one character, the narrative jumps to a different one. If Gottlieb isn’t an expert of plotting, he at least knows how to structure the book to exploit the ability he does have.

Still, there’s a feeling of rigidity to the whole book, as if Gottlieb is too stuck in the outline of the story to have some fun with it. Every beat is deliberately set up so that it can pay off later. There are few moments where characters get to just be themselves and interact with each other without it being overly expository.

“The Face Thief” defies classification into a particular genre, but perhaps fits nicely into a thriller in terms of feel, if not the specific cornerstones of what one expects. It’s a quick read and ideal for a long flight as it moves along quickly and doesn’t demand much in terms of thought. It also happens to be almost instantly forgettable.

As far as airport fiction goes, it does its job effectively, although one senses that Gottlieb is still finding his footing as a writer and hasn’t reached his full potential yet.

Printed on Monday, January 30, 2012 as: Novel fails to leave impression