Review of “The Expats” by Chris Pavone

This very cleverly-plotted espionage thriller is quite entertaining; Jim and I both enjoyed it. Besides this book having an incredible amount of fun plot turns, the author includes a great deal of astute commentary on the nature of friendship and marriage.

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Most of the book takes place in Luxembourg, where Dexter Moore has moved with his wife Kate and two young kids, Ben and Jake, after receiving a job offer with a large increase in salary he was loathe to refuse. Kate quits her own job of fifteen years, thinking it was time anyway. But she is bored in Luxembourg, where she cleans, shops, does child care, and joins other expat wives for coffee klatches.

Soon the two are befriended by another expat couple, Julia and Bill Maclean, but Kate suspects they aren’t who they claim to be. For that matter, neither is she. Has her secret past finally caught up to her? As she begins to dig, she realizes nothing and nobody is who she thought they were.

Discussion: I loved the ongoing dialogue about the nature of relationships, as when Kate thinks about what she wants to say to Dexter:

“As much as Kate had been resenting Dexter, and this new life of hers, he was still her best friend. But she was worried – no, it was beyond the uncertainty of worry; it was awareness – that this would cross some line in their marriage, a line that no one acknowledged until you were on its precipice. You know the lines are there, you feel them: the things you don’t discuss. The sexual fantasies. The flirtations with other people. The deep-seated mistrusts, misgivings, resentments. You go about your business, as far away from these lines as possible, pretending they’re not there. So when you eventually find yourself at one of these lines, your toe inching over, it’s not only shocking and horrifying, it’s banal. Because you’ve always been aware that the lines were there, where you were trying with all your might not to see them, knowing that sooner or later you would.”

As Kate acknowledges:

“…all people have secrets. Part of being human is having secrets, and being curious about other people’s secrets. Dirty fetishes and debilitating fascinations and shameful defeats and ill-begotten triumphs, humiliating selfishness and repulsive inhumanity. The horrible things that people have thought and done, the lowest points in their lives.”

But living with secrets takes a toll:

“What complete loneliness is this? Surrounded by people, suffused with untruth, unable to tell anyone anything real. Vague acquaintances, casual friends, intimates, even her single soul-mate, the one person in the world, her partner, her ally, her everything. His head was thrown back in carefree laughter, his eyeglasses askew, hair mussed, crooked smile. She loved him so much. Even when she hated him.”

Evaluation: This is a delightful book with elements of both intelligence and inanity that keep you turning the pages in wonder at the ingenuity and ineptness operating simultaneously in the protagonists.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, 2012

Note: This book garnered a number of awards, including:

Edgar Award (First Novel, 2013)
Thriller Award Nominee (First Novel 2013)
Anthony Award (First Novel, 2013)
Dilys Award nominee (2013)
Macavity Award Nominee (First Novel, 2013)
Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist (Mystery/Thriller, 2012)

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6 Responses to Review of “The Expats” by Chris Pavone

  1. I read this for book club a couple of years ago. I liked it. I don’t think I rated it quite as highly as you did. But I still liked it.

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    I listened to this on audio and, like Lloyd, liked it but didn’t love it. It started to feel too far-fetched to me. I had the book in print and passed it on to my mom and she loved it. Maybe I should have read it in print.

  3. Sarah's Book Shelves says:

    Oh my gosh – I’ve had this book on my TBR list for years. And I loved Pavone’s The Accident. You’ve just renewed my interest in it with your “commentary on the nature of friendship and marriage.” Now I just need to find the time.

  4. Rachel says:

    I’m intrigued by all the secrets!

  5. Literary Feline says:

    I enjoyed this one too. I really like Pavone’s writing style and keep intending to read more by this author.

  6. I haven’t read anything by Chris Pavone before, but this review makes me want to remedy that, thanks!

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