Tony's Reviews > The Expats

The Expats by Chris Pavone
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did not like it
bookshelves: novels

Presumably the main purpose of a thriller is to provide thrills -- unfortunately, this one does not. I have no earthly idea why John Grisham's blurb compares it to "the early works of Ken Follett, Frederick Forsyth, and Robert Ludlum" because not only is it not in the same league, it's not in the same sport. Christopher Reich's blurb makes the claim that the book is a "jet-fueled story that rockets from one corner of the globe to another." This is curious characterization of a book where the action almost entirely takes place in Luxembourg, France, and Switzerland, with the occasional flashback to Washington, D.C. and New York and occasional weekend trip to various other European cities. And it is anything but "jet-fueled," -- quite the opposite: it is slow and plodding to a deadly degree.

The story concerns a middle-class married couple (Kate and Dexter) with two kids who move to Luxembourg as a result of a job opportunity for the husband. This gives Kate the opportunity to quit her work as a CIA agent and settle into a new life as an expat housewife without ever having to reveal her secret professional life to Dexter. Of course, it goes without saying that Dexter harbors a secret or two himself (shades of that tepid Brangelina movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith). Their story flips back and forth between the present, and two years previously. In the present, they are living in France and Kate runs into a friend from Luxembourg who is not really a friend, but some kind of agent sent to track her and Dexter down. The "two years ago" sections are the bulk of the book, and detail the family's move to Europe, and the gradual revelations of truth that eventually tie into the present. It's a clunky narrative method, with the two timelines cut and pasted back and forth in a vain attempt to create some kind of narrative tension.

Unfortunately, most readers will have a reasonably good idea of Dexter's revelation is going to be, so we're left waiting, and waiting, and waiting...for Kate to catch up. Meanwhile, we roll around in Kate's head as she struggles to figure out her new life and her husband's odd job. There are some nice moments when we see Kate struggling with her deception, and trying to convince herself to tell Dexter about herself and what she knows about him. But even that is just a typical portrayal of a marital deception writ large. There are a few scenes here and there that unfold quite nicely, for example, a gathering of ex-pat mothers having coffee and babbling about nothing, or Kate's acquisition of a gun from a Scottish pimp in a brief trip to Amsterdam.

However it's not until the very end of the book that the deceptions start to fall away and the action picks up, and Kate and Dexter confront the other's secret side, and have to work together. Only then can a very elaborate David Mamet-like con artist plot start to unfold. This is all reasonably nifty, but even here, the two timelines create a narrative choppiness that slows the pace down. In the end, the whole enterprise felt rather thin and artificial, which left me thinking that this might be the kind of book that is actually better as a slick Hollywood film. I wouldn't be surprised if we get the chance to find out in about three years.


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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2011 – Finished Reading
November 12, 2011 – Shelved as: novels
November 12, 2011 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-10 of 10 (10 new)

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Jordana I completely disagree with this reader. I was hooked on page one. And found it a rip roaring good read that pulled me along with it through great plot twists and locales.


Cathy Davis Agreed with the reviewer.


Sheila Kelly Tony is right!


Cindy Tony, I was struggling to find a way to express the same thoughts that you put so elegantly. Excellent review, but I did enjoy the book more than you did. I think it was partly because it was an audiobook and so I could multi-task.


message 5: by Kimberly (new)

Kimberly Thanks for review


David Tony - Spot on review.


Debra Totally agree.


message 8: by Melissa (new) - added it

Melissa Crytzer Fry I am slogging through this for book club. PAINFUL. can't wait till it's over.


Sarah Dayal Disagree with this reader! I was hooked - I didn't mind choppy narrative. On the contrary a more linear narrative might have bored me.


Elisabeth Tyler I love Ken Follett novels and I can see the comparisons. Pavone puts a lot detail into the descriptions of life and the development of the characters. He just does it in a much shorter book than Follett. If Follett wrote this book it would also be a text book on how to build, use and hack a computer. Lol I really enjoyed Pavone’s book and will come back for #2.


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