Trash Lit: The Expats (almost) lives up to the hype


There's an awful lot of hype around this first novel by Chris Pavone. John Grisham compares it to the early works of Ken Follett, Frederick Forsyth, and Robert Ludlum. The folks at Crown publishing think this is going to be the Next Big Thing in the thriller world. And since I'm such a huge fan of overhyped authors, I decided I'd pour a nice glass of Buffalo Trace and read the first 20 pages.

I have a William Shakespeare theory about thrillers. The way my English Lit professor in college used to tell it, Willie played to a tough room: The theater-goers in 16th Century London got bored fast, and they brought rotten vegetables, and it wasn't pleasant up there on stage if the plot started to drag. So there's always action in the Bard's first scene or two.

I read a lot of thrillers and I drink fast, so if I can't get past the first couple of chapters, I'm done. Saves a lot of time.

I got past the start of The Expats and kept going; it became hard to put down.

Grisham is wrong: It's not a lot like the work of Robert Ludlum or Frederick Forsyth -- but I can live with that. The world only needed one Ludlum; you like his style, have at it -- he wrote 25 books.

Pavone is different, in an odd way more polished. The Expats is as much a novel about a woman trying to balance a job, a husband and kids as it is a spy thriller. And while there's a little too much Mr. and Mrs. Smith going on, it's really a pretty fun read.

You get fake passports, big money and a gun just a few pages in. Then you get the more mundane story of Kate giving up her job as a run-of-the-mill government analyst (read: deadly killer spy) to move with her husband to Luxembourg, where he's got a job doing computer security for a bank.

Except, of course, that's not what he's really doing. And the nice expat couple that happens to befriend Kate and hubby might be CIA assassins coming to take out Kate for her past indescretions, or they might by FBI agents trying to frame hubby for something that he might or might not be doing, or they might be something else altogether. But nobody is telling the truth about anything. And Kate is bored taking care of the kids and the house, so she has to become a secret agent again to find out what's going on.

There's a great section about what it means to quit your job so you have more time to spend with the kids and then discover that you can't stand being a full-time parent. There's a Paris nightclub with naked people and random sex and violence. There's wierd almost-sex with the hubby's new best bud who is supposed to be married but really wants to fuck her. She has to fend him off, spy on hubby, spy on the neighbors, lie to everyone involved and still get home in time for dinner.

Unusually literary for a thriller. The flashbacks got tiring after a while, but overall, it works. Put it on the spring list.