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The Expats (Kate Moore, #1)
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Archived VBC Selections > The Expats by Chris Pavone - VBC August 2014

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Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
For our August selection, The Expats by Chris Pavone won the vote in our poll. Pavone won the Anthony for Best First Novel at last year's Bouchercon for this book; here's the synopsis to start us off:

An international thriller, The Expats is the story of a seemingly ordinary working mom, Kate Moore, whose husband, Dexter, is offered a lucrative job in Luxembourg — a move that will unravel everything they believed about each other. Kate and Dexter have struggled to make ends meet, so they jump at the chance to start a new life abroad with the promise of rich rewards. But Kate has been leading a double life, and leaving America forces her to abandon her dangerous but heroic job. She soon discovers that it will be harder than she thought to shed her past, especially while coping with the weight of an unbearable secret. Dexter seems to be keeping secrets of his own, working long hours for a banking client whose name he can’t reveal. When another American couple befriends them, Kate begins to peel back the layers of deception that surround her, revealing a heart-stopping con that threatens her family, her marriage, and her life.



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Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
I just got my copy from the library, so I don't have comments yet. Anyone finished reading yet?


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Kate | 16 comments I'm still waiting for my library copy to arrive!


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Judith | 13 comments It's just not my kind of book. I did try to read it; it is the selection for my mystery book club. I'll let you know how others in my group liked it.


Lenore | 1078 comments I read this earlier this year and thought it was a terrific thriller, with a twist at the very end that - although all the clues were more or less in plain sight - caught me completely off guard. Also, as someone who has been an expat wife, I thought the book captured that experience brilliantly. Even though, unlike Kate, I actually spoke the language of the country very well, I had many of the same experiences and even thought some of the same thoughts.


Antoinette | 186 comments I'm reserving my library copy now so it may take a while. I'm looking forward to reading because so many of my friends have recommended it.


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
I have it on my Kindle and have not yet read it, but now I will get to it. From all I hear, it's really good. We need some of the folks who voted for it to chime in here, I assume that they must have read it!


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Margaret | 128 comments LAPLibrary says the CD version is on its way to me.


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Erin (tangential1) | 1638 comments Mod
Merrily wrote: "We need some of the folks who voted for it to chime in here, I assume that they must have read it!"

Not necessarily, Merrily; maybe they voted for it because they -wanted- to read it. Which is what I did ;-)


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Erin, that is an excellent point! I'm halfway through now and it is a compelling book, although I'm having a wee bit of trouble with the multiple flashbacks to different periods...


Lenore | 1078 comments Merrily wrote: "I have it on my Kindle and have not yet read it, but now I will get to it. From all I hear, it's really good. We need some of the folks who voted for it to chime in here, I assume that they must..."

OK, I'll start: You don't have to be more than a little way into this book to realize that the secrets spouses keep from each other are a major theme. Kate has not told Dexter exactly what her government job was. Dexter has not told Kate who his client/employer is. Is keeping secrets between spouses justified? Any secrets or just "little" secrets? How about if you're keeping these secrets for the spouse's benefit - or protection? Is Pavone trying to say something about this, or is secret-keeping just a major way to advance the plot?

Yeah, I had a little trouble with the flashbacks, too, especially as I was listening, not reading. But I got used to it after awhile.


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Lenore, definitely there are layers and layers of secrets here, and also the question of false identities, both those constructed for work (e.g. Kate has had to maintain her secret identity because of her job) but also misunderstandings of who people really are as individuals. Kate chose Dexter because she believed he was one sort of person, but by the time we get to the middle of the book, which is where I am now, we wonder if she was right or wrong. And of course, he doesn't know who she is at all - or does he?


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Ronelle | 1 comments I found the book a little confusing at first when the story switched back and forth between timelines. However, the characters were well developed and remained consistent throughout. The plot held my attention. It was so exciting that it was hard to put down; it followed me in my musings through the day, and slipped into my dreams at night.


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Ronelle wrote: "I found the book a little confusing at first when the story switched back and forth between timelines. However, the characters were well developed and remained consistent throughout. The plot held..."

Ronelle, I agree that it is engrossing. I'm looking forward to getting back to it!


Lenore | 1078 comments Ronelle wrote: "...It was so exciting that it was hard to put down; it followed me in my musings through the day, and slipped into my dreams at night.
..."


Can an author ask for higher praise than that?


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Erin (erin_pettegrew) | 5 comments I'm so glad I finally read the book club selection in time to chime in!

I agree that the multiple timelines were a little off-putting at first until I got with the flow and managed to figure out that one perspective was current day and the other was the flashback.

I didn't buy that Dexter was able to completely snow his CIA-trained, ultra-sensitive-to-nuance wife about his illegal activities. How could a normally law-abiding citizen in an otherwise close marriage manage to hide nerves, stress and shady behavior? I know she intentionally put her blinders on when it came to Dexter, but that seemed a bit too much for me to believe about Kate, who seems to notice everything.

I haven't lived overseas but I did find that the stay at home mom in unfamiliar territory theme felt familiar... I think it was that I grew up as a military brat (always stateside) and those transient friendships and time-filling coffee breaks and child care arrangements made up a lot of my childhood. I watched my mom make "friends" with the ladies in the government issued neighborhood based on their proximity and the ages of their children, rather than any true partiality. Likewise, I was assigned friends as much as my dad was assigned a desk. "Here, Erin, there's a girl your age whose mom and yours are in the PTA together. Go be friends."

Has anyone read anything else by Pavone?


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Erin wrote: "I'm so glad I finally read the book club selection in time to chime in!

I agree that the multiple timelines were a little off-putting at first until I got with the flow and managed to figure out..."


Erin, this was the first book I'd read by Pavone and I enjoyed it. I know he has a second book out and uses at least one of the characters from this book in it.
I enjoyed the book and actually stayed up late to finish it, although I agree that some of the wheels-within-wheels were a bit unlikely (afraid to say too much lest I ruin it for those who are still reading). I do think he did a good job of really keeping the reader in the dark pretty far along into the book, and of conveying the sense of alienation you might well have as an Ex-Pat (although if she has spent so much time living abroad, it seemed like she ought to be more comfortable with the whole experience, even it was on a different continent).
In addition to the theme of secrets within marriage, there was also a definite them here about the professional woman who has given up her career to be a wife and mother and can't quite "settle" to it. It seemed pretty obvious to me that Kate was looking for a mystery to solve and perhaps even for some danger. I wonder if she would have started investigating Julia and her husband with or without "signs" that they were up to something?


Lenore | 1078 comments Erin & Merrily,

You have anticipated some of the things I was going to say (or ask).

I read Pavone's second book, The Accident, almost as soon as it came out, because I thought The Expats was so great. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in the second book. Kate and Hayden reappear, Kate in a very minor role, but Hayden comes off as a completely different and not very likeable character, and I thought a lot of what happened WAY more improbable than anything in the book we are reading. (Also, and this is just me, I didn't like any of the characters except Kate in the second book, and she disappeared early on, and I really dislike books in which I cannot relate to any of the main characters.)

As I think I've said elsewhere, I've been an expat wife (and someone who put a career on hold to do that), and I thought Pavone really nailed that aspect of the book. (The Adobe ePub edition that I am re-reading while we have this discussion has a great little essay by Pavone about being an expat spouse. When he came to the part about having a tiny washer-dryer combo that took three hours to finish a load consisting of four pairs of children's pants, I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry with recognition. I used to have fantasies of exploding mine with a howitzer shell.) But I don't think it was unrealistic for Kate to feel alienated despite her previous foreign experience. I spoke fluent French and had previously studied in France when I did my expat wife stint, and there were certainly days and weeks on end when I felt alienated. Kate is a Spanish-speaker, comfortable in a very different culture. And don't you think there is a difference between "working" abroad -- where you have specific tasks to perform, for which you've been trained -- and trying to make a life abroad?


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Lenore wrote: "Erin & Merrily,

You have anticipated some of the things I was going to say (or ask).

I read Pavone's second book, The Accident, almost as soon as it came out, because I thought Th..."


Lenore, I think you're right about feeling alienated in a strange culture even if you have worked abroad elsewhere - there is a considerable difference between being occupied with work most of the time and then coming home, vs. being "at home" and with children - I imagine. BTW, had to laugh about your experience with the washer-dryer combo. We had one of those when we were in Provence, and in addition to it being small and weak, we weren't entirely sure how to work it, never having seen anything like that. One of my friends took a great picture of me sitting on the floor and staring at the thing, trying to make sure it was doing what we thought it was supposed to! We ended up drying most of our stuff on a clothesline, which fortunately we had...


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Kate | 16 comments My in-person discussion group had also chosen this book for this month (very convenient!). To varying degrees, all of us experienced some difficulty following the flashbacks, though we agreed that the cumulative effect did have payoff.

The issue of what Kate knew, or noticed, or chose to see, about her husband occupied a significant chunk of our conversation - one reader found it unbelievable that she wasn't much more suspicious from the get-go. My take was that she had done her 'due diligence' by investigating him, and determining him to be one of the 'good guys', before they got married. His activities started well after that, and the text does say that she chose not to use her work training to view her husband after that preliminary background check. That said, I did think that she took far too long to employ her training, not only with regard to her husband but also to Julia as well.

It was an interesting read, and I will try this author's next book.


message 21: by Lenore (last edited Aug 10, 2014 04:40PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lenore | 1078 comments Kate wrote: "My in-person discussion group had also chosen this book for this month (very convenient!). To varying degrees, all of us experienced some difficulty following the flashbacks, though we agreed that..."

I agree with Kate (the VBC poster above) that it wasn't so unbelievable that Kate (the protagonist) was in the dark for so long, because she had consciously chosen not to investigate her husband after her premarital investigation. Which led me to thinking - what other things do we consciously choose not to notice or pursue about our spouses or friends or children? Because I think we all do that to some extent in at least some relationships.


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Lenore wrote: "Kate wrote: "My in-person discussion group had also chosen this book for this month (very convenient!). To varying degrees, all of us experienced some difficulty following the flashbacks, though w..."
Kate and Erin, I think we've all been through that "the signs were there if I had been willing to see them" thing in our lives - I think it's human nature to refuse to see the handwriting on the wall sometimes, especially if it would give us another view of someone we love and trust. In a way, I thought that the book would have been stronger had we seen more of Dexter early on - of course I realize that part of the point is that we are seeing him through Kate's eyes. Still, to me he was so innocuous as to be almost a blank (and you'd wonder why a woman like Kate would have fallen for him).


Lenore | 1078 comments Merrily wrote: "...Still, to me he was so innocuous as to be almost a blank (and you'd wonder why a woman like Kate would have fallen for him). "

I think Dexter's "innocuousness" was central to his appeal for Kate. Her adolescence was filled with family drama -- sick parents and an alcoholic sister. Her work life consists of high drama -- risky jobs and arrogant men (both on her side and the opposition). A nice, stable, loving guy with no drama in his life would seem so restful and comforting.


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Lenore wrote: "Merrily wrote: "...Still, to me he was so innocuous as to be almost a blank (and you'd wonder why a woman like Kate would have fallen for him). "

I think Dexter's "innocuousness" was central to hi..."


Very likely, Lenore, although I'd hope that "nice, stable, and loving" wouldn't necessarily mean "boring." But, it's true that maybe Kate had all the excitement she needed in her work. And I may not be giving Dexter his due...


Lenore | 1078 comments I'm thinking that it's still too early in the month to ask questions that might contain spoilers, but if I'm wrong, please let me know, because there are some good questions in a reader's guide that I'd like to post, but have been holding off so as not to spoil those who have not yet finished the book.

Meanwhile, what is Hayden's role in Kate's life?


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Lenore wrote: "I'm thinking that it's still too early in the month to ask questions that might contain spoilers, but if I'm wrong, please let me know, because there are some good questions in a reader's guide tha..."

Lenore, I think Hayden is both a sort of senior mentor, and a link with a past that she regrets leaving. She respects him, and she's also glad to have an excuse, if you will, to contact him after leaving the Organization. Plus, he knows the "real" Kate, so he's someone that she can be reasonably honest with (or as honest as anyone in the CIA is able to be).


Antoinette | 186 comments I stayed up all night to finish the book. I kept waiting for something awful to happen. I thought the flashbacks worked well. None of the characters seemed believable, i think intentionally, because they all were hiding big parts of themselves. The false identities are more important than whatever is real, if anything is real. I never felt any sense of danger although there was reason to, sort of a fairy tale.
I've lived outside the US as an anthropologist so I've observed ex-pats before and felt Pavone's characterization to be accurate. So many of them live isolated lives, speaking English and socializing with the same small group of other ex-pats, putting their lives on hold, never benefiting from the opportunity to learn a new language, experience a different culture, develop new interests. Could never understand it.


Lenore | 1078 comments Gotta speak up in defense of expats. When I was an expat wife, I had studied in France and spoke the language fluently. (And had French friends before we arrived, although they lived in another city.) But if you are a stay-at-home spouse, not in school and not in the workforce, how do you meet and socialize with the natives? My daughter went to French schools, so I met some people that way. But what if she had not yet been school age, or if putting her into a non-English-speaking school had not been feasible? If one's spouse works in the culture of the country, one would presumably socialize with his/her co-workers -- but Dexter worked alone. As is common with many expats, my husband worked with an international organization, i.e., with other expats (from other countries). We made a few friends through the synagogue, but if one is not a believer, the route of church/synagogue/etc. is probably not open. I'm really not sure what we could have done to become friends with more French people. (Oddly, I met some of my French friends by helping to found and run an organization of English-speaking Jews. Go figure!)

Moreover, although most of my friends were other expats, I did not find it an isolating experience. We made numerous friends of other nationalities, as well as other Americans. (I think it is Kate's naturally secretive personality that prevents her from becoming closer friends with many of the expat wives she meets.) By ourselves and with our expat friends (like Kate and Dexter), we took advantage of all of the cultural and recreational activities on offer. Being an expat does not mean putting your life on hold, even if you cannot find a way to integrate yourself into the culture of the country -- it's just a different way of experiencing the life of the country.

I think you have put your finger on something when you said that you kept waiting for something awful to happen, yet never felt any sense of danger. I think that's because the danger was not a physical danger, but rather a psychological and social danger. The threats were not to Kate's or Dexter's physical lives, but rather to their relationship with each other and - potentially - to Dexter's ability to stay out of jail.


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Lenore wrote: "Gotta speak up in defense of expats. When I was an expat wife, I had studied in France and spoke the language fluently. (And had French friends before we arrived, although they lived in another c..."

Good points, Lenore. It differs from country to country, but I also know that in some cultures, people are not invited to visit in the home unless you become very, very close. So it's probably difficult to make friends without either going out to work yourself or having a common bond through school, church, temple or whatever. As a retired person, I can say that's true even when one moves to a new place in the U.S. Once you're not working, it can really be hard to get integrated into the community unless you truly work at it.


Lenore | 1078 comments After Kate and Dexter have their fake, wired conversation in the restaurant, Kate meets with Julia on the observation deck at the montée du Clausen, and they get into an actual fight, which shows that Kate is really losing control. But then Julia pulls a gun on Kate (who responds by pulling one of her own). Why? Was Julia actually contemplating (on some level) shooting Kate? What would that have accomplished for her? Or is she just carried away by the passion of the fight? (Which seems odd for an FBI agent.)

Similarly, at the end of the book, there is a moment when Kate realizes that Bill is pointing a gun at her under the table. And she fishes her own out of her handbag, keeping it under the table. What does Bill think he will accomplish by shooting Kate?

These two episodes really puzzle me.


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Lenore wrote: "After Kate and Dexter have their fake, wired conversation in the restaurant, Kate meets with Julia on the observation deck at the montée du Clausen, and they get into an actual fight, which shows t..."

Lenore, all I can think of to explain those episodes is that since Julia and Bill (we know ultimately) are actually committing a crime, perhaps they think that if Kate is eliminated, they can somehow avoid being captured. Not sure this is what the author intended - I mean the incidents also demonstrate that Kate hasn't lost her ability to kill if necessary. Maybe someone else on here has a better idea!


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Kate | 16 comments Both incidents reminded me of the saying that you don't take a knife to a gun fight. In other words, if someone already has their weapon in hand, you don't want to be in a position of needing to shoot and losing precious seconds (even milliseconds) in pulling your own weapon out. So it seemed likely that it was appropriate to Kate to have hers ready once someone was pointing a firearm at her.

The scene with Bill struck me as a case of each of them trying to be prepared. Kate didn't go into that restaurant planning to shoot anyone, but Bill doesn't know that and as the tension escalates he wants to be ready in case he needs his firearm to 'assist' in an escape. Kate knows she wasn't planning physical violence, but once she's aware of Bill's drawn weapon she sees it as only logical to arm herself, because there's no way to predict how anyone at that table will act/react.

From what I remember (the book has since been returned to the library), I had the impression that Julia pulled her gun when it seemed that Kate might gain the upper hand in their fight. Some of it might have been reflexive, in that she was ready for anything, and then she realized that it would be better for her to avoid shooting.

The lack of physical violence and gunplay is something I appreciated about this book. The very real possibility added tension, but it was a nice change to have even the climax of the novel occur with words and emotional violence instead of action that, in other books, often feels like a default 'solution' to the plot.


Antoinette | 186 comments Lenore wrote: "Gotta speak up in defense of expats. When I was an expat wife, I had studied in France and spoke the language fluently. (And had French friends before we arrived, although they lived in another c..."
I was too harsh about ex-pats. They do vary from place to place and depends on the possibilities that a location offers and the barriers that exist.


Lenore | 1078 comments Here's a question (or three, actually): Does it matter that the Colonel was bloodthirsty? Even when we learn that he was perhaps not responsible for Dexter's brother's death? Does the end justify the means?


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Lenore wrote: "Here's a question (or three, actually): Does it matter that the Colonel was bloodthirsty? Even when we learn that he was perhaps not responsible for Dexter's brother's death? Does the end justify..."
Lenore, for me the Colonel mostly matters in that his case illustrates the ambiguity inherent in jobs like the one Kate has. Once you buy into the idea that certain individuals are so dangerous to national security that it's okay to kill them, you are on a slippery slope where you risk people making their own independent decisions on who deserves to die. And then - even if a person might deserve to die - there is the collateral damage, like the young woman caring for the baby. So to me it doesn't matter so much whether the Colonel was bloodthirsty or not - the issue is, who had the right to make the decision to eliminate him, if anyone?


Lenore | 1078 comments Merrily wrote: " ...even if a person might deserve to die - there is the collateral damage, like the young woman caring for the baby...."

I think you probably know this, but just to make sure we are not confusing others: The Colonel, killed by his accomplice in crime, is the guy who supposedly had killed Dexter's brother, from whom Dexter stole; Torres was the guy who threatened Kate's family and was killed by her, and the young woman caring for his baby (his wife or lover?) became collateral damage.

That does not, of course, detract from your very thought-provoking question. However, while we are on the subject of that collateral damage, isn't there a moral difference between what Dexter did - taking revenge on a bad guy for something done in the past - and what Kate did - protecting her family from an explicit threat in the present? (Which raises yet another couple of questions: Was there a way that Kate could have protected her family without killing Torres? And if so, why couldn't she see it?)


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Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Lenore wrote: "Merrily wrote: " ...even if a person might deserve to die - there is the collateral damage, like the young woman caring for the baby...."

I think you probably know this, but just to make sure we a..."

Lenore, thanks, I had indeed confused the Colonel with Torres!
Interesting question about revenge killing vs. preventive action. I suppose if you take the tack that says Kate might have found another way to protect her family other than by killing, then you have to accept that both killings are wrong. We don't see her explore alternate ways out, but perhaps in real life, a person in her position would try to think of another way . If, however, what she did was the only way to protect her family, then I'd say she has the higher moral ground. A revenge killing not only doesn't bring the brother back, but so often just leads to more bloodshed.
Let's face it, it's rare that good comes out of any killing...


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Madonna | 4 comments I really enjoyed this book, and like others, couldn't wait to get back to it when I was interrupted.
You've all posted such great discussions, thoughtful questions, and points of character that I have little left to add.
I found Kate's decision to let Bill and Julia go when she learns of the pregnancy not quite true to her character. I know she loved her own children, but I guess this was her way of committing herself to her husband and his choices.


Lenore | 1078 comments Madonna wrote: "...I know she loved her own children, but I guess this was her way of committing herself to her husband and his choices."

I hadn't thought of it that way, but now that you say it, I think you are spot on.


Lenore | 1078 comments OK, last question before the long weekend and the September book:

This is, I think, a book about gullibility and trust. Dexter says gullibility is the big weakness in IT security. But something makes him gullible, too. And Kate, who wants to trust her husband, begins to experience erosions of the trust. What is the book saying about trust and gullibility? And about what makes us trusting or gullible? When IS trust gullibility? And about the betrayal of trust?


Meredith | 10 comments Hi, folks! *waving* I'm a long-absent member of the club. Oddly enough I have read most of the books and then didn't post. (Life, egad)
I shared with several people the sense of "can't wait to get back to this book." But I think Lenore's question is very relevant. I'm still not sure how I feel about either Kate or Dexter since it wasn't clear it would be a trusting relationship going forward. Or?? I was involved enough that if they had broken up, I would have been annoyed and disappointed.

I also was very impressed that a man wrote this about a woman and also a mom. But I'm not a mom myself, what did others think?

I enjoyed the sense of "tourist on the page." But from my tiny expat experience, it's Hard.


message 42: by Merrily (new)

Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
Meredith wrote: "Hi, folks! *waving* I'm a long-absent member of the club. Oddly enough I have read most of the books and then didn't post. (Life, egad)
I shared with several people the sense of "can't wait to g..."


Meredith and Lenore, I think the lesson of this book may be that trust is impossible if you don't really know the person you married. When you get right down to it, neither Dexter nor Kate married the person s/he thought they had. We knew that Kate had professional reasons for hiding her real identity, but here's Dexter, a perfectly ordinary guy to all appearances, and he also is not what he appears to be. Basically, if Kate and Dexter are to trust again, they will have to learn to trust the "real" version of themselves and not the constructed one.
There do seem to be authors who can do an excellent job of putting themselves into the head of the other gender, Meredith - I guess it all comes down to imagination, in the end.


Meredith | 10 comments Yep. I agree with Merrily's point about trust. I had the very distinct reaction "I'm really glad my marriage isn't like that" and a spot of "what on Earth were they thinking!"


message 44: by Merrily (new)

Merrily | 1791 comments Mod
You're probably not alone in those reactions, Meredith!


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