Review

The Expats

by Chris Pavone

The almost universal appeal of Chris Pavone’s debut novel slowly becomes evident as the reader is gently tugged and prodded and then gradually catapulted through its plot, word by word and page by page. It’s a thriller in the same way that Scott Turow’s PRESUMED INNOCENT is a courtroom drama; while both at their surface are easily classified as genre fiction, the truth goes deeper. At heart, THE EXPATS is about the depth of the secrets that are kept by and between husband and wife, together and from each other.

"The almost universal appeal of Chris Pavone’s debut novel slowly becomes evident as the reader is gently tugged and prodded and then gradually catapulted through its plot, word by word and page by page.... Look for THE EXPATS to be a spring and summer travel companion for vacationers everywhere."

At first, it seems that it’s Kate Moore who’s the holder of all the trick cards in her marriage with her husband, Dexter. To the world, Kate is a working mother whose job concerns something vague and intangible, having to do with writing position papers for the U.S. State Department.  In reality, she works for the federal government, but her job is far more interesting than shuffling papers across a desk.

Dexter, an expert in computer system security, is a smart guy and a dependable husband but is somewhat lacking in ambition. He could have made millions during the computer software bubble but for poor timing (“missed it by that much,” as Maxwell Smart used to say), though he is content to more or less dawdle along. Furthermore, he is not especially good looking; he is one of those guys who you see with his wife and wonder How did he land her? All in all, Kate and Dexter’s lives aren’t bad, even though they have difficulty making ends meet. And, of course, there are Kate’s job-related secrets, which she fears will come back to haunt her one day.

Everything changes when Dexter is offered a lucrative job in Luxembourg, giving the Moores a chance to live in a new and exotic place and for Kate to quit her job --- her real one --- and reinvent herself. Unfortunately, the perfect life that she envisions never materializes. Dexter is working longer and longer hours for a secretive employer whose identity cannot be revealed due to what he refers to as “confidential issues.” Meanwhile, Kate is bored with being a full-time mother. Truth be told, she misses her old job. The exotic, cosmopolitan locale of their new home and their side trips to other destinations in Europe cannot make up for the drudgery of day-to-day housekeeping and the almost daily coffee klatches with the other ex-pat wives. Additionally, there is an incident from Kate’s past that  haunts her on a daily basis and threatens to turn her world upside down

That threat soon manifests itself in the form of another American couple who almost aggressively seeks Kate and Dexter’s friendship. Utilizing a skillset that is rusty but still reliable, Kate begins to do some investigating, not only of her new friends, but also of her own husband, whose behavior becomes more secretive by the day. She discovers fake offices, false records, and secret bank accounts containing staggering sums of money. As she slowly unravels the truth about Dexter, she finds that what she initially thought was a deception or two involves a long-range scheme that runs wider and deeper than she ever could have imagined and that she fears will swallow her family whole. She begins taking steps to avoid that, but her own past may well impede her efforts.

THE EXPATS is one of those (relatively) rare thriller novels that will appeal to men and women in equal measure. Everyone has secrets, many of which are kept for good reasons and differ from person to person, situation to situation. Anyone who has ever been in a personal relationship and kept a secret (or a carload of them) from their significant other will see themselves in Kate and Dexter, no matter how ordinary or mundane they might see their lives as being. The fact that it is set against the backdrop of several of Europe’s more sophisticated locales doesn’t hurt the story one bit, either. Look for THE EXPATS to be a spring and summer travel companion for vacationers everywhere.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 23, 2012

The Expats
by Chris Pavone