When Kate Moore’s husband, Dexter, comes home one day and announces that he’s received an extremely lucrative offer to move the family from Washington, D. C. to Luxembourg for a high profile IT job in online banking security she’s secretly relieved, and not for the reasons one may ordinarily expect. Sure, not having to worry about money anymore and living a posh European lifestyle are appealing, but it’s the life she’ll be able to get away from that’s most appealing to Kate.
Kate has a secret. A big one. Her husband has no idea that when Kate heads off to Atlanta or LA on a business trip, her ultimate destination is more likely to be Prague or Veracruz. Kate, you see, is a C.I.A. agent. In a supervisory position for several years now, she more than had her day working covert ops in the field, and the years of missions and keeping secrets has taken its toll. She’s ready to leave the spy life behind.
Unfortunately for Kate, the spy life isn’t quite finished with her.
Shortly after their arrival in Luxembourg, Dexter begins acting very strangely, keeping both secrets and odd hours. Given all the secrets she’s kept from him, however, Kate tries to give him the benefit of the doubt. But when another American couple shows up on the scene–and shows a little too much interest in Kate and Dexter–her old instincts kick in and Kate begins pulling at threads. The mystery that unravels will change everything she thought she knew, about her husband and herself.
While The Expats is a decent, quick read, I did have a couple of issues with the book that prevented me from enjoying Chris Pavone’s spy novel to the fullest. There’s no question that Pavone is quite skilled at setting a scene, and the backdrop of several European cities (Luxembourg, Paris, Geneva) certainly serves as enticing eye candy to the story. He also does a great job conveying the disruption caused by uprooting a family–the Moores have two small boys–and dropping them down into a foreign country on short notice; no C.I.A. training could prepare Kate for life as the mother of two preschool age kids trying to make her way in a country where they don’t speak the language and have no sense of routine or stability.
Where the book falls a bit flat for me, however, is with Kate herself once she begins poking around into the activities of Dexter and the other American couple. On the one hand, in flashbacks and via Kate’s thoughts we know she’s undergone extensive training–everything from firearms to hand-to-hand to knowing how to fly small aircraft–and has killed more than a few times over the course of her time with the Agency. Yet, when she starts investigating things in Luxembourg her character behaves, well, out of character for such a highly skilled operative. She gets flustered when confronted by computer nerd Dexter, and makes several ridiculously rookie mistakes while pursing leads in the field. It just didn’t sit right to me that she’d suddenly show that level of anxiety and incompetence after years of stone cold covert work.
Of course, not everyone is as nit-picky as I am when it comes to the consistency and believability of character behavior. So, if you like spy novels and the premise sounds intriguing to you–and you’re willing to let a few “C’mon, she’d never do that!” moments slide–The Expats is worth checking out.
The Expats is available from Crown (ISBN: 978-0307956354).
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