Books Magazine

The Expats

By Drharrietd @drharrietd


On my way home after Christmas I found myself in the airport with time to kill. I wanted to listen to my audio book but found I'd left my earphones behind. I actually bought some more in Boots, but they were so firmly encased in plastic that I couldn't get them out, even after bashing the case with my keys and, briefly, biting it with my teeth. So I gave up on that, and had a look at Kindle. I haven't actually got a Kindle, but I thought I could read something on my phone, and somehow this one popped up. It was the title that grabbed me, being an expat myself, so I paid my 99p and there it was within seconds.

So here I was, reading a book about which I knew absolutely nothing, except that it was some kind of spy story. The expats turned out to be an American couple who had moved to Luxembourg with their two small children. Not much like the kind of expat life I live, deep in the French countryside, but it was interesting enough to pass the time till the flight took off. When I got home, though, I basically forgot all about it -- I had other books to read and listen to, and I hadn't yet read enough to be grabbed by it. Then, a few days ago, I picked it up, and finished it very quickly.

This is certainly a skillful and page-turning story. The plot revolves round the narrator, Kate, an ex-CIA agent married to Dexter, a successful businessman. The couple and their two young boys move to Luxembourg so that Dexter can pursue his career. But Kate comes to realize more and more that, not only does she find being an expat housewife and mother very lacking in interest and challenge, but also that she knows absolutely nothing about Dexter's job. So, using her CIA training, she starts to investigate his working life. What she discovers is deeply puzzling and disturbing. Not just that, but she soon realises that her best friends Julie and Bill are not what they seem. In fact they seem to be investigating Dexter too.

The twists and turns of the plot are satisfyingly unpredictable, but the strength of the novel is that perhaps its real theme is trust. How can Kate stay friends with Julie and Bill once she knows what they are really up to? and above all, what will her new knowledge about Dexter do to their marriage?

I know now that this was Chris Pavone's first novel, and that it has been a huge success. But I didn't know that until I'd finished it, and that somehow gives me an interesting perspective on how we choose what to read. I came to the novel absolutely cold, and with no preconceptions. Would I have reacted differently if I'd known anything about the author and the book's reception? Perhaps I would have been expecting too much -- or too little, depending on my current views of best sellers. Anyway, whatever, I'm glad I read it and am looking forward to Pavone's follow-up, due out in the spring. 

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