Review: Paranoia runs deep in The Expats, leading to Poirot-like finish

It took me a little while to finish reading The Expats by Chris Pavone.

That, of course, is one of the worst things an author wants to hear after the hours, days, weeks, months – maybe even years – of laboring over his or her novel. But, on a bright note, I’m glad I saw the book through to its end.

The Expats - coverI started reading the book in late February soon after it arrived in the mail from Blogging for Books. I quickly read to about the halfway point – and something happened. One day, I picked up a different book and started reading it. I not only read that book all the way to its finish, I then picked up another book and read it from start to finish.

The Expats, meanwhile, sat unfinished. A lone bookmark sitting on page 150.

This past week, I decided I should finish what I started. (I sometimes have difficulty in that regard, so I don’t lay all of the blame on the author. I have lots of unfinished projects around the house. I am easily distracted by other chores and things I’d rather be doing. The Expats simply fell victim to my own impatience.)

The Expats follows the story of Kate Moore, a former CIA operative who resigns to be a mom to her kid and wife in Luxembourg, where she meets other Americans living abroad like herself. After years of seeing spies everywhere and trusting no one, it’s not easy for Kate to live the simple life. It’s not long before she begins to sense deception at every turn, from the new couple she befriends to her own husband.

Her paranoia runs deep and she soon starts spying on her husband and sneaking into his office to find out just what he does for a living and whether he is being honest with her. At the same time, her newfound friends start turning up everywhere she goes, leading her to suspect that they are either spying on her or on her husband.

She’s not wrong, as it turns out.

It sounds like an intriguing story, and it is, for the most part. It just takes a while for things to start happening. The second half of the book certainly flowed a lot quicker as all her fears began to manifest and the puzzles presented in the first half of the book became clear. Pavone’s prose certainly puts the reader into the head of his main character. We hear and think every thought with Kate, however irrational those thoughts appear on the surface. As a reader, you have to wonder if her paranoia is just that, or if she is really on to something, and if she’s right, what then? How will she handle the news that her husband isn’t who he says he is or is doing something he shouldn’t be doing? Can she turn in her own husband to the CIA?

It’s a fascinating moral dilemma.

That’s what this book is more than anything else, and that may be why I had to put it down midway through. I like more action in the stories I read, and this one seemed lacking. Even her final showdown with the FBI agent/former friend following her was only a page or two. Everything else took place over long talks at dinner. The entire final reveal was more akin to a Hercule Poirot finale where he regales the reader with a recap of the events and his deductions.

I like a good mystery – I love Hercule Poirot novels. But when you are reading about spies, the CIA and FBI following the trail of a possible international crime, I expect more action.

Available from Broadway Books, The Expats is a New York Times Bestseller and has received rave reviews. I’m not raving over this one, but it’s a good mystery and I’m glad I finished reading it.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

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