Chris Pavone’s The Expats doesn’t fall within my usual genre; you’ll typically find me in the middle of a YA or paranormal/urban fantasy novel. However, every now and then a book’s synopsis intrigues me so much that I have to try something new. Just because I don’t usually read spy/espionage/CIA/FBI books doesn’t mean I don’t like these types of stories at all–in fact, these are often the types of movies and TV shows that I enjoy watching. A few years ago I remember becoming very caught up in Alias, and I adored the first The Bourne Identity movie (I even tried reading the book, but sadly didn’t like it). After finishing The Expats, I began to realize that this type of story better suits me in TV or film form.
Pavone’s heroine, Kate Moore, was the draw for me to The Expats. I imagined what it would be like in her shoes, a woman who never expected to fall in love or have a family, so she decides to join the CIA and participate in field missions which sometimes require her to kill people. Kate leads a double life, continuing to work for the CIA after marrying Dexter and having two children with him. But after a mission goes unexpectedly wrong for Kate, she decides she wants out. When Dexter lands a job in Luxembourg as a financial consultant, it is the perfect exit from the CIA for Kate. Dexter’s new job promises more money, new scenery, adventure, and the hope of rekindling the spark in their marriage.
At first, Kate has a difficult time adjusting to life as an expat. Dexter’s work often takes him away on business trips, so Kate is left alone tending to their children. Her loneliness is lifted when she meets another expat, Julia, and her husband, Bill. Kate and Julia quickly become best friends, but Kate’s past as a member of the CIA seems to make her suspicious of everyone around her. Dexter and Bill also develop a friendship, and Kate fights a small attraction she has for Bill while being suspicious of Julia and Dexter.
The Expats‘ third person present tense narrative begins in “Now”, when Kate unexpectedly runs into Julia. Kate and Dexter are living in Paris, attempting to make a fresh start after the situation in Luxembourg. Chapters written in third person past tense slowly begin to reveal what took place in Luxembourg and show why Kate was so uncomfortable when she ran into Julia. There were a few occasions where I questioned where I was in the timeline of events; I found this really frustrating at times, especially when Kate starts reminiscing about a past mission for the CIA that went terribly wrong. I wanted to know what had happened with that mission, but none of that is revealed until right at the end.
I found Kate to be a fascinating character; from what little interaction the reader sees between her and her children, she seems like a good mother. Her love life, on the other hand, is a bit messier. I didn’t really understand her attraction to Dexter, even though the reader learns how they came together in flashbacks. There was a bit of humor in that as Kate does a background check on Dexter to make sure he’s clean before she agrees to marry him–especially since there is so much more to him than meets the eye.
The Expats offers a lot of twists and turns that will keep readers on their toes from the beginning until the end. I finally had to just give up on trying to figure everything out because nothing was making much sense. Near the end, the book sort of just fell apart (basically every twist and turn is explained in excruciating detail) and seemed rushed. Overall I liked the story and found most of the characters to be interesting, but I wasn’t a fan of the structure. If The Expats is ever made into a movie or TV series, I think I actually would want to watch it, despite not caring for the book.