Seldom have I changed my mind about a book so many times before finishing it, than I did with Chris Pavone’s debut novel, The Expats. I began reading this self-described “international thriller” with high expectations stemming from three words of supposed praise offered by the talented Patricia Cornwell: “bristling with suspense.” Of course, the rest of Cornwell’s actual sentence is not quoted, so this might be purposely misleading for all I really know.
The book has a straightforward beginning but quickly morphs into a confusing tale/puzzle for the reader to unravel. That initial set-up of the story, however, was enough to keep me reading. The Expats is narrated by Kate Moore, mother of two little boys, whose husband rather easily convinces her one day that it is in the family’s best interest to pack up and move to Luxembourg where he has been offered a rich deal with an international bank needing help with its computer system security. Kate is eager to chuck aside her 15-year government career to become a fulltime mother, so the decision to move is an easy one for her.
The family’s relocation from Washington D.C. goes well, and Kate is beginning to feel more comfortable with her new lifestyle when she begins to wonder about the latest American couple to join her little community of expat families. This is an “aha moment” for the reader, too (this is not a spoiler because it is mentioned inside the book’s own jacket), who now knows that Kate has something very bad in her past to hide, and that she fears this new couple is in Luxembourg because of what she did.
Thus begins a series of incidents, discoveries, false leads, blind alleys, and confrontations during which the reader learns that little is as it seems, everyone is probably lying, and no one, absolutely no one, is to be trusted. I was still intrigued by, and having fun with, the storyline to this point but Pavone did not know when to stop. He goes on too long with his miserly release of the truth spread among what starts to seem like countless false clues and leads. I will not deny that a more patient reader might very well enjoy the complexity and obtuseness of such an intentionally misleading storyline – nor the possibility that this was simply the wrong time for me to pick up a novel like this one. That could certainly be the case. But, frankly, I did lose my patience and could not wait to get to the payoff because I began to resent how long it was taking Pavone to get me there.
Pavone’s structure for The Expats, on the other hand, is something I did enjoy. The author tells his story in a series of interlocking flashbacks. The bulk of the book is, in fact, a flashback from the “the present day,” but some flashbacks go back further to recount incidents from Kate’s days as a government employee. Too, the story’s resolution is clever but it left me feeling that I had been forced to travel too far for what awaited me at the end.
Rated at: 3.0