In his jaunty, intermittently suspenseful third novel, Gottlieb (Now You See Him, 2008, etc.) tracks a femme fatale/con artist and her victims.
Margot Lassiter was only 16 when she began learning how to control men through sex. Ice cold, she felt nothing for her many conquests. An unhappy childhood behind her, she learned how to read people during a stint at a New York fashion magazine. The plot kicks in when she asks Lawrence Billings for private lessons. Middle-aged and happily married, Lawrence is an expert on face and body language; his seminars are Dale Carnegie spinoffs. Margot has moved on to an investment firm and needs to perfect her game. She already has a target in her sights: John Potash, once a New York educator trapped in a boring marriage, now a transplant in Northern California, madly in love with his second wife and possessor of a sizable nest egg. Gottlieb juggles the stories of Margot, Lawrence and John. Margot’s story is partially flashbacks, for a mysterious fall down a staircase has resulted in memory loss and broken bones. It feels awkward, and somewhat diminishes the drama of her entrapment of John and Lawrence. She quickly separates John from his nest egg; evidently sunny California has turned his brains to mush. Nor is Lawrence, who should know better, immune to Margot’s charms; she almost wrecks his marriage. But when a hard-boiled detective on surveillance duty also falls for her, that strains reader credulity; he’s one sap too many. There are other problems: Margot’s accomplices in the financial scam, who appear and disappear without explanation, and a cavalier response to an attempted murder. Though these moves are fumbled, Gottlieb is very good with the incidentals, especially John’s relationship with his canny old mother.
Gottlieb is never dull, which is a bigger compliment than it sounds, so we keep turning the pages, albeit with a raised eyebrow.