Book: The Expats (NEW March 2012) by Chris Pavone
The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties. (Oscar Wilde) [epigram at beginning of the book]
Not so much a “whodunit”,The Expats instead presents an intriguing puzzle of “what was done” and “how”.
Kate, mother of two and Washington D.C. policy wonk quits her job when husband Dexter, a computer security expert gets a job protecting the transactions of a bank in Luxembourg. She asks her husband some bewildered questions about this obscure country, as any geography-challenged American who has not traveled much in Europe would ask.
Almost nothing in that previous paragraph is true. Kate and Dexter are married–and quite happy together. They are the parents of two young boys.She does ask questions. But Dexter doesn’t know where Kate actually works and that she knows Luxembourg quite well, thank you. And although she thinks she has thoroughly checked him out before they married, she begins to have doubts about Dexter’s long hours at work, sudden trips to other countries, and his canned explanation of what exactly his job is.
As much as anything, the book is about lies, as pointed out by the Oscar Wilde quote at the beginning, and in this scene halfway through the book, when a couple who has become friends with Kate and Dexter reveal they are going to the same place on a vacation. (Once you’ve read the book you will realize how this simple conversation contains a whole web of lies and be surprised to learn who IS telling the truth..)
Julia slapped his chest. ‘Dexter too will be excited that we’re all going to be in the Alps together.’
His head swiveled to his wife, an accusation in his eyes.
‘I know what you’re thinking.’ Kate protested, ‘ But this is not a conspiracy. I didn’t know a thing about this. Julia? Tell him.’
‘She didn’t know a thing about this,’ Julia agreed. ‘I promise. Bill and I just decided last-minute. A couple days ago.’
‘You’re lying,’ Dexter said, half playfully, half not. ‘I’m surrounded by women, lying to me.’
Chris Pavone creates a complex plot and a complex structure for his first novel. Surprisingly, he pulls it off. (He is not new to writing and publishing, as you can see at his website). Even more surprisingly, he presents his main character–a woman with attention to detail that might be envied by the many female chick-lit novelists. (Not mentioned on his website is a time when he was a house-husband in Luxembourg which gave him the opportunity to see and study the life of women ex-pats.)
I was sucked in from the start and got very little done until I had buzzed right through and unraveled the multitude of deceptions.
Of course I loved the fact that the Paris scenes took place mainly in St. Germain, the area of Paris that Ken and I stayed in. And the detailed introduction to Luxembourg made it sound like an appealing place to visit–provided you were not faced with the threats and danger that haunted Kate’s stay in the little principality.
I cannot say much (anything, really) about the plot, because picking at any small thread might unwind the whole thing, and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. I believe this book is going to please any readers of thriller espionage, readers who like puzzles to untangle, and particularly appeal to mothers of small children who have ever fantasized about a slightly more challenging life than building Legos and arranging playdates.
An example of Pavone’s insight into women/mothers:
Kate had always known that she herself was a strong woman. But it had never occurred to her that there were strong women everywhere, living mundane lives that didn’t involve carrying weapons amid desperate men on the fringes of third-world wars, but instead calmly taking injured children to hospitals, far from home. Far from their mothers and fathers and siblings, from school chums and old colleagues. In a place where they had no one to rely on except themselves, for everything.
The Expats definitely belongs in the European traveler’s library. Incidentally, it has been optioned for a movie and I hope it becomes one. As I read, I cast the characters. George Clooney would be perfect for Bill, if he’d take the lesser role. For Dexter, I’d cast Jake Weber, who I thought totally made the TV show Medium. The two women are more difficult for me. Whom would you cast as Kate, the All-American mom with a tough-girl secret life?
Disclaimers and Credits:This book was provided by the publisher for review, with no promises, since I give my own quirky opinions. The links to Amazon from the book title will take you to Amazon. You should know that anything you by through those links, although it costs you no more, earns me a few cents to keep A Traveler’s Library operating. Thank you so much for shopping through our affiliate links. Photos of Luxembourg are from Flickr, used with a Creative Commons license. The picture of the Seine is by Ken Badertscher and is copyrighted. Thank you for not copying without permission.