Carmen's Reviews > The Expats

The Expats by Chris Pavone
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it was amazing
bookshelves: mystery, fiction, traditionally-published, he-says
Recommended for: Anyone
Read 2 times. Last read June 29, 2014 to July 4, 2014.

Should you be honest with your spouse? Is your spouse being honest with you? Are you SURE?

"Okay," she said. "I'll bite: WHY would we move to Luxembourg?"

"To make lots of money, and travel around Europe all the time." And there it was, the full, unrestrained smile. "Just like we always dreamed." The open look of a man who harbored no secrets, and didn't admit the possibility that other people did. This was what Katherine valued above all else in her husband.


Everyone has secrets. It's just that some people's secrets are bigger than other people's. Kate Moore is a CIA agent. Her trusting husband Dexter doesn't know a thing about it - she's been lying to him for a decade while dating him, marrying him, and raising up their two sons.

She will reboot herself. Relaunch. She will become, at last, a woman who is not constantly lying to her husband about what she really does, and who she really is.

But she's tired of her job. And just at that instant, Dexter comes home and tells her that he has a great opportunity to make money in Luxembourg. She seizes the moment, retires from the CIA, and travels with her family to Luxembourg.

Kate was still getting used to the idea of strolling around a foreign city with absolutely no concern that someone might, for any variety of reasons, want to kill her.

Immediately Kate is plunged into a completely different life. Instead of sneaking around with a gun, under the cover of a secret identity - she's playing Legos and wiping snotty noses all day. Instead of coming home and telling her husband about her day at work while he tells her about his, she's anxious for him to come home so he can share the burden of taking care of the kids. But he's working later and later and he's home less and less. She's becoming more and more frustrated with the life she thought she'd always wanted.

What do you DO with children, all the time? In Washington, she'd had charge of the kids on weekends; preschools and the nanny had borne the brunt of the day-to-day child-care responsibilities. She'd wanted more time with the kids, then.

But now? Now it was every day after school, every evening, every night, every morning, and all weekend long. How was anyone supposed to amuse them, without spending her life lying on the floor, playing with Lego? Without the kids killing each other, or making an unbearable mess, or driving her crazy?

Now that she had what she'd wanted, she was having her doubts. Which had been her worst fear about this whole thing.


But it's understandable why Dexter isn't around much. He's settling in the new job, he has to take business trips to meet with clients... Or is something more sinister going on?

Suddenly, Kate sees intrigue and conspiracy everywhere. Is her husband hiding something from her? Or is she just missing her former life as a secret agent?

Kate was increasingly convinced that she was never going to be a happy stay-at-home mom. If there was such a thing.
...

This is an amazing, gripping thriller by Chris Pavone. It's very well-written, with Pavone getting right into the heart and mind of Kate Moore. As Kate is piecing things together, so is the reader. It's exciting.

Kate is a strong character and an agent who knows how to take care of herself. It's very exciting to be in the mind of a woman who knows how to lie, tail, shoot, fight, and kill - but on the outside looks like a sweet, rich, American housewife.

The only problems I had with Kate's character were the following:

1.) There's two REALLY obvious times that she's being manipulated and she doesn't see it. This really brought me out of the mindset of "oh she's such a cool and efficient spy." I mean, they were obvious! I wish Pavone had been more clever so that Kate would have seemed more competent. It was a pair of glaring mistakes.

2.) Pavone writes Kate as really attracted to this guy Bill. And I had a huge problem with that. I just don't buy it at all. Here's some descriptions of Bill:

One whose entire being was suffused with confidence, flowing up from some deep well that originated Lord knows where - maybe he'd been spectacularly good at some sport, or he had a photographic memory, or was impressively well-endowed - and oozing out into a sleekness, a fluidity, as if all his gears were well-oiled, perpetually lubricated and running efficiently, manifested in smooth physical movements and playful smiles and undeniably animal sexuality. This man didn't run his hand through his hair, or adjust his shirt collar, or dart his eyes around the room, or run his mouth meaninglessly; he didn't fidget in any way.

Here's another:

But Bill was still wearing a small smug smile, the supremely confident look of one of those guys who's competent at everything, at skiing and tennis and auto repairs and finish-carpentry, at communicating in languages he doesn't speak, at tipping porters and bribing cops, at foreplay and oral sex...Kate felt a chink in her armor, in her lifelong struggle against men like Bill: slick men, manipulative men, dangerous men.

I'm sorry, this slick Rick type of guy has NO appeal to me. And Chris Pavone is trying to say that Kate is attracted to him - even thinking about cheating on her husband with him? Ludicrous. She's seen the man cheat on his wife - practically right in front of his wife. And she strongly suspects that he's not who he says he is. I know Chris Pavone is a male, but this is just not feasible. Kate's a basically good person. Not only does she love her husband and kids, but (and this is important) - she and her husband ARE STILL HAVING GREAT SEX. No woman, at least no sane woman, would ever cheat on their husband, the father of their children, who she still has amazing sex with - with a shady, smooth-talking, duplicitous, suspicious man. I DON'T CARE. I don't care about his "animal magnetism" or how good at flirting he is or how she thinks he'd be really good in bed. This would NEVER happen with a woman who has even an ounce of self-esteem or good sense. And ESPECIALLY not a woman trained to be an intellectual, rational, cool-headed agent. So I didn't buy Kate's "Should I sleep with him, or not?" line of thinking AT ALL, and it just brought me out of the story every time in cropped up.

ETA: My views on this may be skewed because a.) Bill is so repulsive to me and b.) she's a fucking CIA agent who should know better.... but I guess I shouldn't say 'no' woman 'ever' would sleep with this asshole. Some women find slimebags extremely attractive.... I guess.


There are some main themes that are dealt with in this novel. They are, in no particular order:

1.) Working mom vs. stay at home mom.

Kate's boys are preschool and kindergarten age. She works full-time at the CIA. She thinks that all she wants is to be a stay at home mom. But when her wish is granted and she's confronted with the reality of entertaining and caring for toddlers day in and day out, she realizes it isn't as fun or as fulfilling as she'd imagined. I won't tell you what eventually happens, but I feel like Pavone is definitely coming down on the side of "you should work, for your own sanity and the sanity of the kids" side of this age-old argument.

She used to be a person who did things. Not just run-of-the-mill things. Illegally crossing international borders. Eluding police. Hiring assassins, for God's sake. Now she was folding laundry. Could her life really have become this?

2.) Honesty between spouses.

Do you owe it to your spouse to be honest with him/her? In what circumstances is it okay to keep secrets? If you suspect your spouse is keeping secrets, is it okay to spy/snoop on him/her? When you find out that your spouse has been hiding something from you, do you forgive him/her? Or is the relationship irrevocably broken? These are wonderful questions and I felt like the book did an amazing and realistic job of the characters working through the twisted labyrinth of answers.

3.) What makes someone "a good person?"

If someone commits a horrifying act, does that negate all the good things s/he's done in his/her life? What act, if any, is enough to negate the good in a person's life? Which acts are unforgiveable and why? These kind of moral questions are probed delicately in this book and I think the author does a stupendous job of tackling a sensitive subject. Kudos to Pavone on this.


Tl;dr - I thought Kate was a great, multi-layered character. Pavone did a solid job of writing her. The book was gripping and thrilling and kept me guessing. I love reading about female spies! This was giving me the same thrills as Sweet Tooth, but Pavone didn't fuck up the ending like Ian McEwan did, so I liked this novel a lot better. Pavone's insights on everyday life are astonishing in their simplicity and truth, and I think the book was very well-written. I recommend it.


P.S. RE-READ 11/12/2015
This book is what Gone Girl and Hausfrau WISH they could be.

Pavone is a talented and skilled writer who crafts his chapters excellently.

Here's Pavone's take on pecking, which I very much agree with:

"It's a slow day," Dexter said, leaning down to peck her on the lips. Kate had long struggled with the pointlessness of the perfunctory peck, but she could never bring herself to tell Dexter to cut it out. She knew she'd have a hard time articulating her antipathy, and was afraid she'd come off as unloving, despite her admittedly contrarian opinion that it was the perfunctory peck itself that was unloving. So she didn't say anything, and pecked right back.

Also, the book is genuinely funny. Pavone is a witty writer, I was laughing out loud more than once.

Chris Pavone also writes an amazingly believable woman character here. This is what I'm talking about when I say that men CAN write real and believable females.

EXCELLENT BOOK, and the rare one that I would recommend to ANYONE. Male, female, young, old, gay, straight, white, Latino, black, Asian, people who like mysteries, people who hate mysteries, ANYONE. Very pleasing and well put-together book.

However, I still can't bring myself to give this five stars as I am still reeling from Kate (a CIA agent!) missing two very important and obvious clues that this reader (who is about as far from a CIA agent as one could get!) noticed right away. In case you're wondering, I'm talking about (view spoiler) Not any of the many, many twists that come after that. I just couldn't buy that Kate was that dumb, it definitely didn't go with the rest of her smart character.

STRONG 4 out of 5. I would recommend to ANYONE.

Changed my rating. I'm giving this 5 stars, because it's fucking amazing. But I have caveats. Okay? Five stars with some caveats.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
June 25, 2014 – Shelved
June 29, 2014 – Started Reading
June 30, 2014 –
page 17
4.83% "This, she told herself again, is my chance to reinvent myself. As someone who's not making a half-assed effort at an ill-considered career; not making an unenergetic, ad hoc stab at parenting; not living in an uncomfortably dilapidated house in a crappy, unneighborly neighborhood within a bitter, competitive city - a place she chose, for all intents and purposes, when she shipped off to her freshman year at college"
June 30, 2014 –
page 28
7.95% "What do you DO with children, all the time? In Washington, she'd had charge of the kids on weekends; preschools and the nanny had borne the brunt of the day-to-day child-care responsibilities. She'd wanted more time with the kids, then. But now? Now it was every day after school, every evening, every night, every morning, and all weekend long. How was anyone supposed to amuse them, without spending her life lying on"
July 1, 2014 –
page 43
12.22% "...leaning down to peck her on the lips. Kate had long struggled with the pointlessness of the perfunctory peck, but she could never bring herself to tell Dexter to cut it out. She knew she'd have a hard time articulating her antipathy, and was afraid she'd come off as unloving, despite her admittedly contrarian opinion that it was the perfunctory peck itself that was unloving."
July 1, 2014 –
page 62
17.61% "One whose entire being was suffused with confidence, flowing up from some deep well that originated Lord knows where - maybe he'd been spectacularly good at some sport, or he had a photographic memory, or was impressively well-endowed - and oozing out into a sleekness, a fluidity, as if all his gears were well-oiled, perpetually lubricated and running efficiently, manifested in smooth physical movements..."
July 1, 2014 –
page 64
18.18% "Kate was off the side of the main confrontation, ignored. It would be easy for her. The path she could take to end this scene was clear: the swift kick to the side of the head, the rabbit punch to the kidney, then the wresting away of the weapon. But if Kate did this, then everyone would wonder how the hell she had the nerve, and the technique, and she wouldn't be able to explain."
July 1, 2014 –
page 68
19.32% "She used to be a person who did things. Not just run-of-the-mill things, but life-and-death things. Illegally crossing international borders. Eluding police. Hiring assassins, for God's sake. Now she was folding laundry. Could her life really have become this?"
July 1, 2014 –
page 70
19.89% "You are supposed to be a spy! Stop giving her access to your car and your computer!!! Arrgghhh!!! You're driving me nuts!!!!"
July 1, 2014 –
page 85
24.15% "But Bill was still wearing a small smug smile, the supremely confident look of one of those guys who's competent at everything, at skiing and tennis and auto repairs and finish-carpentry, at communicating in languages he doesn't speak, at tipping porters and bribing cops, at foreplay and oral sex...Kate felt a chink in her armor, in her lifelong struggle against men like Bill: slick men, manipulative men, ..."
July 1, 2014 –
page 93
26.42% "But she was worried - no, it was beyond the uncertainty of worry; it was awareness - that the would cross some line in their marriage, a line that no one acknowledged until you were on its precipice. You know the lines are there, you feel them: the things you don't discuss. The sexual fantasies. The flirtations with other people. The deep-seated distrusts, misgivings, resentments."
July 1, 2014 –
page 117
33.24% "Kate was increasingly convinced that she was never going to be a happy stay-at-home mom. If there was such a thing."
July 2, 2014 –
page 118
33.52% "Now, more than ever, now that she knew he was dangerous. He was a criminal or a cop, or maybe, like many people she'd come across, he was both. He was handsome and sexy and charming, and brave, and he kept a gun under the bed where he had sex with women who weren't his wife. Women perhaps like Kate.- HOW CAN SHE BE ATTRACTED TO THIS GUY?!? He disgusts me."
July 2, 2014 –
page 119
33.81% "Suddenly, perversely, she blamed Dexter for her attraction to Bill. If Dexter were around more, if he were more attentive in every way - in any way: if he said thank you more, or called once in a while to do something other than say he wasn't coming home, or fucked her more frequently or more passionately or more creatively, or if he would just fold a single goddamned load of laundry, the maybe she wouldn't..."
July 2, 2014 –
page 130
36.93% "It continued to feel good, to be on this mission in Berlin. Even if there was a chance that the mission was entirely in her imagination. Maybe this was what had ben missing in her life, why she felt so bored, so worthless, so unhappy. But what mission did she want? Maybe she didn't need the type with weapons and secret identities and coded calls and mortal peril. Maybe her family could be her mission."
July 3, 2014 –
page 136
38.64% "This is when it occurred to her that she was investigating the Macleans in order to avoid investigating her husband. Manufacturing an exterior enemy to demonize, as every politician knows, is far more expedient than confronting the interior one."
July 3, 2014 –
page 138
39.2% "She'd put that aside, sealed in an envelope deep inside her, to be opened only if required. She didn't want to know, unless she absolutely had to, her husband's secrets."
July 3, 2014 –
page 148
42.05% "Kate had always known that she herself was a strong woman. But it had never occurred to her that there were strong women everywhere, living mundane lives that didn't involve carrying weapons amid desperate men on the fringes of third-world wars, but instead calmly taking injured children to hospitals, far from home. Far from their mothers and fathers and siblings, from school chums..."
July 3, 2014 –
page 152
43.18% "It was after sex when Kate most wanted to talk to Dexter. To tell him that Bill and Julia were... To tell Dexter that she knew he was lying to her about something, and demand he explain. During her entire career at the CIA, pillow talk had never played a role. But now she understood what an asset it could have been, having sex with people to get information. She wondered whether this insight would've changed her..."
July 3, 2014 –
page 155
44.03% "Kate had lied to many people in her life, profusely; she'd regularly been a breath away from getting caught. But it was very different when it was your husband, and the thing you're lying about is no longer yourself, but him. It was inconceivable to treat it as a game; it was impossible to pretend that it wasn't real life."
July 4, 2014 –
page 174
49.43% "If it were really an affair? What would Kate do? Could she understand this, ignore this, forgive this? Did Dexter still love her? Was he bored, or curious, or horny, or selfish, or terrified of mortality? Was he having a midlife crisis? had he done this before? Was he an inveterate philanderer? Had he been cheating all these years? Was it turning out that he was an utter bastard, and she hadn't been aware of it?"
July 4, 2014 –
page 192
54.55% "He stumbled backward into the suite's sitting room, trying to avoid completely losing his balance and falling on his ass, while also coming to the horrifying realization that he had erred gravely. That somehow, of all the mistakes he'd made in his adventurous, eventful, and satisfying 57 years, of all the many people - hundreds of them, thousands - he'd pissed off, it was astoundingly this chica who was finally..."
July 4, 2014 –
page 200
56.82% "All these women, all these mothers, all these ex-lawyers and ex-teachers, ex-psychiatrists and ex-publicists. Expat exes. not they were cooks and cleaners; they went shopping and lunching. They carried price tags on their arms, projections of their husband's income and willingness to spend it on nothing. On matrimonial goodwill."
July 4, 2014 –
page 201
57.1% "What complete loneliness is this? Surrounded by people, suffused with untruth, unable to tell anyone anything real. Vague acquaintances, casual friends, intimates, even her single soul mate, the one person in the world, her partner, her ally, her everything. his head was thrown back in carefree laughter, his eyeglasses askew, hair mussed, crooked smile. She loved him so much. Even when she hated him."
July 4, 2014 –
page 205
58.24% "Kate used to imagine what she didn't want to do - how she didn't want to investigate Dexter - this was the exact image in her brain; creeping through her own home in the dark of the middle of the night, picking through her husband's private things while he slept. This was why she'd promised herself that after they were married, she'd never investigate him again. She didn't want to do this, didn't want to feel this wa"
July 4, 2014 –
page 217
61.65% "Kate understood that it had been absurd of her to refuse to be suspicious of Dexter. But at least she was aware of why she'd been absurd; a liar doesn't want to think that other people are liars, because then the other people should suspect her of lying too, because she is, and she'll get caught."
July 4, 2014 –
page 221
62.78% "DUH. Some spy you are! I figured that out 20 chapters ago!!!"
July 4, 2014 –
page 222
63.07% "Whatever was going on, it felt like it was drawing to an end. Kate certainly hoped it wouldn't be a violent end. But she had to be prepared."
July 4, 2014 –
page 228
64.77% "Kate had always thought of Brad as unbearable, and was gratified that Dexter could finally see it, now that Brad had fully bloomed into the exceptional prick that had always been growing within. New York had nurtured his prickishness."
July 4, 2014 –
page 232
65.91% "DUH. Again, I have to say, what kind of spy are you!!?!? I figured that out ages ago."
July 4, 2014 –
page 235
66.76% "There had to be a justifiable reason. Dexter was a good man. If he'd done a bad thing, there had to be a legitimate reason for it.\n \n After all, she herself had done the very worst thing imaginable. And she was a good person. Wasn't she?"
July 4, 2014 –
page 241
68.47% "It's been a long time since Kate carried a gun, passing police and security cameras, trying not to be nervous. It's a familiar sensation, like the aggravation of an old injury."
July 4, 2014 –
page 274
77.84% "Kate was never going to understand the extent to which men were stupid."
July 4, 2014 –
page 283
80.4% "Kate had never imagined that Dexter might know everything about her. But tonight, for the first time, she had doubts. Because Dexter was much more clever, much more deceptive, and much more devious than she'd thought possible. She'd been wrong about him, all these years. How wrong?"
July 4, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-21 of 21 (21 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm sold! Awesome review, Carmen.


Carmen Thanks, Derek! I think I was craving a female spy novel after Ian McEwan let me down so terribly.


message 3: by Donna (new)

Donna This book sounds great, Carmen. It's nice when a book you reread holds up against or surpasses the first reading of it. And it's nice to hear that the author developed a believable female character. Do you think that maybe Kate wanted to sleep with Mr. Slick for the excitement that was missing in her life at that point? I'm adding this to my list of books to read. Thanks for the great review. :)


Carmen Thanks, Donna! This book is definitely worth reading.

Yes, it is highly likely that Kate was feeling amorous towards Mr. Slick out of sheer boredom (but she was having great and also frequent sex with Husband, so I'm still not fully buying this). I don't know, I'm NOT the kind of woman who is turned on by "bad boys" so perhaps the appeal of Mr. Slick is lost on me. o.O


message 5: by Steelwhisper (new)

Steelwhisper Another great review. I hope you don't get angry with me for pointing something out...

One of my best friends constantly cheats on her partners, be they (as I directly watched and had to calm down) her boyfriend and father of her child, or her later husbands. She cheated, openly at times and never hiding it from anyone, on every single partner she had and has even now. And she is having great sex with her partners as well, and is loving them.

She isn't the only one either. I know quite a few either promiscuous or polyamorous (two different things) women, who do that. So really, it is possible. Whether it's believably written is a different thing ;)


Carmen Thank you!

No, it's not that I don't believe polyamory is a thing. It's just that
a.) This guy is obvious scum and
b.) She's a spy and therefore trained to be cautious, careful and suspicious. It's one thing to be a "normal" (non-spy) person and have whatever sex you want (within a monogomous relationship or not), and quite another to KNOW that there might be enemy agents or rogue agents who are trying to seduce you for various reasons. IMO.

That's why I thought it was unbelievable. And, she was not portrayed as someone who was polyamorous or had ever cheated on her spouse before.


message 7: by Steelwhisper (new)

Steelwhisper Carmen wrote: "Thank you!

No, it's not that I don't believe polyamory is a thing. It's just that
a.) This guy is obvious scum and
b.) She's a spy and therefore trained to be cautious, careful and suspicious. It..."


That's different then. Very understandable.

Though the friend I mention above isn't poly, she is promiscuous, and most of the time she cheats rather than even let her partners know.


message 8: by Carmen (last edited Nov 20, 2015 12:14AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Carmen You have an interesting friend! I have a polyamorous friend who gets in a lot of very interesting romantic/sexual situations, but I'm not personally friends with any cheaters. Not out of moral rage or anything, I just don't know anyone who is like that.

I had a friend who cheated on her long-term, monogamous boyfriend - but she felt shitty and guilty about it and she confessed to him and he dumped her. Then she was beyond sad and miserable (for a while). But I don't know anyone who is either a serial or a gleeful cheater.

Or if I do, they aren't sharing that information with me. LOL


message 9: by Steelwhisper (new)

Steelwhisper Oh yes, she is quite a personality. ;) It's not just occasionally either, she is constantly doing this. I had more than one of her partners end up at my place crying into the coffee I made them.

What is so funny, well only if you're on the outside looking in, is that she is always attracting - as committed partners - perfectly monogamous men. Men who don't even look at other women, even if they are ravishing beauties, whereas she "needs" nothing more than a wink at a party or during a concert, and she will have sex with a guy who takes her fancy.

She doesn't deny it either (which tends to be soul-crushing for her partners). She just has a high sex-drive and doesn't associate sex with emotions. A typical "rake" in the body of a natural, very goodlooking blonde. Anyone who wants to be her partner, needs to come to terms with that, I guess.


Carmen Maybe she should just get into an open relationship?


message 11: by Steelwhisper (new)

Steelwhisper I don't think she thinks of it that way. To her having the sex she wants is more or less like breathing or eating.


Carmen Oh. She feels no obligation to have a talk with the men who falsely believe she'll be monogamous?


message 13: by Steelwhisper (new)

Steelwhisper She doesn't say she will be monogamous.


message 14: by Carmen (last edited Nov 20, 2015 11:09AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Carmen Oh. Usually - well, I usually - have a talk after a while of dating if things are going well like, "Are we going to be exclusive?" etc. etc. etc. Maybe other people don't do that.


message 15: by Steelwhisper (new)

Steelwhisper I don't think everyone does this. I know with at least one partner she said she will have sex with whoever she feels like it. But I don't think he believed her. It's not common among women.


Carmen Oh.


message 17: by Steelwhisper (new)

Steelwhisper LOL


message 18: by Althea (new)

Althea Ann I picked this up on a hotel "free book" shelf randomly- I've got to move it up the TBR!


Carmen You're in for a treat, Althea! I hope you enjoy it.


message 20: by GA (new) - rated it 1 star

GA 5 stars for this pedestrian writing..I am shocked..this book was not worth a read...


Carmen GA wrote: "5 stars for this pedestrian writing..I am shocked..this book was not worth a read..."

I'm sorry you didn't like it, GA!


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