Book Review: THE EXPATS by Chris Pavone
In Chris Pavone’s debut novel, CIA spy Kate Moore quits her job so she can move with her husband, Dexter, and their two young children to Luxembourg and live a “normal” life. She soon meets another American couple, Julia and Bill, who seem a little too friendly and interested in Kate and her husband. Dexter does banking security, protecting financial institutions from any kind of attack or intrusion. He also doesn’t know about Kate’s past. Are Julia and Bill after Dexter or investigating Kate? Are they Feds or more dangerous characters? Kate uses her skills to investigate, though it might expose secrets she’d rather stay hidden forever.
I had two main issues with this book, the first being I didn’t care for any of the characters. To different degrees, they’re all manipulative people and it didn’t matter to me who won in the end. Kate is a cipher, keeping herself remote from her husband and the readers. For a former spy, her powers of observation seem compromised at times. She allows Julia to both use her computer and go into her car unsupervised, with Julia using lame excuses to do so. Regardless of what the reality is, Kate doesn’t even suspect the other woman might snoop. Aren’t spies suspicious of everyone? And this is after she already thinks something is a little off with her new best friend.
Pavone’s observational skills, on the other hand, are definitely sharp—he describes a lot of things in great detail. Sometimes this creates an enticing portrait of a European setting, but overall the habit is a hindrance. Many of the descriptions are not important to the story, and end up weighing down the narrative. Take this sentence, for example:
Kate turns the battered brass knob that’s set into the ornately molded plate that’s screwed to the gleaming creamy paint of the paneled closet door.
Except for the first word, that’s two modifiers per noun. Kate just needs to retrieve some luggage from the closet—why is all that excess information about the door necessary?
This overwriting is especially problematic when the action escalates. It’s hard for the suspense to be maintained when we have to stop and take note of what every passerby on the street is wearing and what they’re doing and how old they are. I had a Twitter discussion with Jenn aka The Picky Girl and she said this wasn’t a problem for her, because the details put her inside Kate’s shoes, showing how bored the former spy is, and how her restless mind would focus on all that minutiae. This gave me a logical perspective, but then perhaps Pavone did his job too well, because reading this novel made me bored and restless, too.
Nerd verdict: Bloated Expats