The Expats By Chris Pavone

March 12, 2012

Perhaps it’s no accident that The Expats was released about the same time as new version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy hit the theaters. Spies spying on other spies makes for a suspenseful story but unlike George Smiley, our hero is the young mother of two preschoolers.

CIA agent Kate Moore makes the uneasy decision to quit her job in order to move to Europe when her husband, Dexter, a banking cyber crime expert, gets a job offer too good to turn down. Readers are flies on the CIA’s walls as Kate is debriefed by her handlers. They’re also edgy about Kate leaving her post as her job as an international assassin has given her a wealth of damaging knowledge should she want to go public with it. Meanwhile, husband Dexter believes Kate has a boring job with the State Department and Kate’s doesn’t expect he’d react well if he knew truth. Kate sees the move to Luxemburg as a chance to start anew without having to reveal any of her worrisome secrets.

Once in Luxemburg, Kate resolves to put all her energy into her new domesticated lifestyle: learning the local language and customs, managing the kids and housework, arranging to have coffee or going shopping with other expat moms. But, as the saying goes, you can take the girl out of the CIA but you can’t take the CIA out of the girl. She’s not sure she’s cut out for such a quiet, quotidian existence. Enter Bill and Julia, from Chicago, who seem too good to be true. Kate’s spook instincts go on high alert because Bill and Julia are decidedly not who they say they are. At the same time, Dexter’s behavior becomes increasingly suspicious. Kate is determined to find out what’s going on but without shedding light on any of her past.

Pavone creates an atmosphere of suspense by showing readers how each character is hiding something but exactly what isn’t always revealed; the reader’s imagination wanders for possible answers. Pavone also keeps readers on tender hooks watching Kate juggle her obligations to her children in the middle of all this cloak and dagger activity.  We worry she might have to shoot someone in the middle of playtime.

Some of the best passages are when Kate goes back to her CIA contacts for help. There’s a kinship in these interactions that’s amusing as we see Kate in her comfort zone with them. Walking through a museum will never be the same for me as I will be wondering how many of the other visitors are spies covertly exchanging  information. The surprise ending is gratifying and I hope we’ll hear more from Chris Pavone soon.