The Expats by Chris Pavone

The Expats

Brief Summary
Kate Moore had quite a past as a C.I.A. operative, but now, with two kids, she’s trying to settle down. But when her husband decides to move them to Luxemburg, her past life begins to catch up to her–and she soon begins to realize that maybe her husband’s past is not as innocent as she once thought.

The Tsundoku Scale
Middle of the Pile (7 out of 10).

The Good
This novel is built to be a thriller, from the flashy black and red hued color, to the typical secret-laced C.I.A. operative story line–and yet no one dies, the main character is a stay at home mom, and the husband is more or less a geek. It is uniquely different from what one would expect, and I could not help but find myself liking the book because of that. The story is brilliantly constructed, taking place in three different time periods (the present, two years before, and deep in Kate’s C.I.A. past), without ever confusing the reader about what happened when, and bringing all the story lines together in a fulfilling, revealing end. Though the story gets a little slow at times, the ending culmination of hidden secrets, backstabbing, and good old betrayal, is well worth the wait. What’s more, Kate is a very real, very human, character in the story. She is not obnoxiously confident, makes mistakes, wants more for her children and herself, and is constantly on edge about the lies she has to tell. The story is not just full of surprising secrets, but is surprisingly deep in how it relates Kate’s life as a normal, everyday person.

The Bad
Spy novels can often be, to put it mildly, just a little unrealistic with the back-flipping, gun-toting characters who seem to survive anything. But we’re ok with that because it’s fun–after all, it is entertaining. But The Expats has the opposite problem. In trying to make Kate so human, so much like typical mom trying to balance her family life, it becomes incredulous how unbelievably dim-witted she can be. Understandably she’s retired, but how could a successful C.I.A. operative who has been in missions all over the world and killed numerous people, not remember to put gloves on before breaking into an apartment? How could any reasonable person think that it would be a good idea to investigate her husband literally right before he comes into the house? Or not look out for a security camera when snooping around? These are the kind of simple rookie mistakes that Kate makes ALL THE TIME, and though what she figures out at the end kind of makes up for some of these mishaps, it can’t fully erase her annoyingly naïve approach to spying.