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The Travelers


The Travelers

The cover of THE TRAVELERS has a bit of a retro flair to it --- a man and woman in the foreground, somewhat blurry, dressed in the modern-day equivalent of trench coats as a multitude of airplanes are frozen every which way in the background --- and gives an accurate portrayal of what is within. Chris Pavone’s third work of fiction deals from front to back with espionage and is a tribute in its way to the spy novels of yesterday, even as it is set firmly in the here and now, with a twist here and a shake there. I have been recommending this title to my friends who are thriller readers, even though the protagonist is 1) almost entirely unlikable, and 2) so lucky during the course of the story that I had to suspend my disbelief too many times, only to be yanked back in by the author, whose writing chops are considerable.

Let’s talk for a minute about that protagonist and his story. Will Rhodes is a writer for Travelers, a long-established, iconic magazine that features articles about faraway places and offers travel services in a number of the cities that it visits journalistically. Will has what seems to be a dream job --- visit exotic places, eat, drink and sleep while checking out the local flora and fauna, and write about it --- but he isn’t happy. He is at that point that many in the media find themselves, being known worldwide in some circles even as they scratch constantly to make the monthly nut. That is Will’s position. He and his wife are struggling with both of their incomes to pay the mortgage on a house they purchased, a little fixer-upper that is a step or two above condemnation in an area that gentrification is just reaching. It is straining their marriage just a bit, around the edges and moving inward.

"Pavone’s story and its multiple backdrops are presented in a perfectly paced thriller in which no one entirely knows what is going on until the very end, which you’ll be sorry to see."

Such is the state of things when Will, while on assignment, enjoys a one-night stand with a woman he has encountered before and has become obsessed with. His bliss lasts for barely a moment when he discovers that he has been caught in what is known in the espionage world as a honey trap: their rendezvous has been recorded. She informs him that he has a choice: he can either start working for her --- gathering information on people he meets while on assignment for Travelers, taking photographs of certain individuals or places --- and make $10,000 a month for doing so, or he can refuse and the file will be sent to his wife. Will doesn’t seem to have much of a choice. And yes, the money is really good and helps get things closer to even.

All too soon, though, the assignments go beyond pictures and names. Will isn’t sure who he is working for. What he doesn’t know is how much he doesn’t know. There is also a bit more to Travelers, his public employer, than meets the eye. As he bounces to and fro across international datelines and to places as different as France, Argentina and Iceland, he slowly comes to realize that he knows far, far less about everything and everyone than he ever could have suspected. By the time he learns all there is to know, it may be too late. His knowledge, or lack thereof, may get him killed.

I found Will to be a bit too whiny to conjure up much sympathy for him at any point. He is one of those people who makes poor decisions --- ones that were obviously poor going in --- yet blames forces that he perceives as being bigger than himself. One might be forgiven for wanting to reach into the pages, smack him across the face and say “Man up!” during the course of the novel. He is also incredibly lucky, maybe too much so. Of course, what espionage protagonist, from 007 on, hasn’t been? Your results may differ. The saving grace here is that Pavone’s story and its multiple backdrops are presented in a perfectly paced thriller in which no one entirely knows what is going on until the very end, which you’ll be sorry to see.

Pavone leaves just enough room for the prospect of a sequel, or more, to sneak its foot in the door by the time the last sentence is read. I’ll be happy to see it, even with Will Rhodes front and center.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 10, 2016

The Travelers
by Chris Pavone

  • Publication Date: January 10, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books
  • ISBN-10: 0385348509
  • ISBN-13: 9780385348508