‘Kate Moore’ is who she is now but she was Katherine—her maiden name was her professional name until Derek Moore announced that the family could move immediately from Washington DC to Luxembourg, if Kate was willing. She was more than willing—to shed the double life, the lies, the fear and the danger of her career and focus on her two little boys and a normal existence as an expat in Europe. Derek is a wonderful, faithful, beloved, slightly naive and only moderately successful technology nerd and he is Kate’s sanctuary in the brutal world of espionage and dirty dealing that she has never shared with him.
The Expats, an intricate plot that peels off layers like petals of an onion, is Chris Pavone’s imagined high-tech, high-finance, hell or high water suspense that pits Kate against nearly everybody she encounters. Derek works for a mystery bank with an undisclosed office, doing something in security he never quite manages to explain to Kate’s satisfaction. He begins to travel constantly and unexpectedly and comes home late every night. Kate is bored in the company of other expat mothers who spend their days housecleaning, dropping off and picking up children from school, ferrying the kids to play dates, shopping and cooking. She takes up tennis but feels like she’s losing her mind. Then a new American couple arrives in Luxembourg and begins to cultivate Kate’s friendship aggressively. And, of course, they are not what they seem.
The book is like a hall of mirrors. Kate sees shadows where there are shadows but misses some obvious suspicious behavior, even as her suspicions heighten. What is Derek up to? Who are her new friends? How will she survive fulltime motherhood and pick up endless toys without throwing them against the wall? Why is she compelled to revert to her clandestine modus operandi, spy on her own husband, buy a gun? Will the one major mistake she made in her field operative days finally catch up with her? How can she keep her family safe in the threatening atmosphere that gathers like murky fog around her?
It’s a good read. A little patchy in construction. A single-day journal alternates with the story of the move, the Luxembourg events, Kate’s memories of CIA assignments, and a lot of introspection. The single day takes place in Paris, where the Moores have moved after things unravel in Luxembourg, and provides the resolution to the plot. Eventually. Meanwhile, the layering of people, places and deceptions can be tricky to keep straight. Kate’s contempt for the mommy-role she sought and then finds to be a rough fit isn’t wholly credible. She is a hyper-intelligent woman who doesn’t play as clueless about how life works or what to expect. She adores her kids but she tires of them quickly. She’s in love with her husband and she trails him and searches his things. Everyone is really someone else. Kate misses conspicuous clues that the reader will catch immediately. As for spy thriller, maybe this is the way the CIA works—and maybe not—John le Carré it isn’t and I thought the set-ups were too simple and transparent. But it’s always nice to have a tough, smart heroine running the show so The Expats gets an overall thumbs-up.
The Expats: A Novel Chris Pavone | Crown 2012