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Tension and Puzzles Aplenty
on February 4, 2012
If your thing in a spy thriller is tension aplenty with lots of secrets and puzzles, you will enjoy this book. Chris Pavone excels in the double-double cross and even makes you laugh at it. He is equally good at putting you right in the middle of whatever description he's got going. Europe has never been so conjured up for the reader's imagination. The plot is a good one, often curved around the unexpected, and it's a tiny bit implausible, but not so implausible it interferes with your intelligence.
Where Pavone falls into mediocrity is in the details. At times there are just too many of them. Other times they are half-presented, then dropped too soon. An example of too many is this entire paragraph: "There was a squat hard-plastic container of cardboard coasters featuring a baroque coat-of-arms, with a lion and pennants and maybe snakes and a sun and a crescent moon, and stripes, and a castle turret, plus gothic lettering that she couldn't make out because from where she sat it was upsidedown, this highly stylized thick black lettering." The description plays no part in the scene or the plot. Oh, the word "this" is Pavone's favorite, used far too many times.
As for a detail dropped too soon, the protagonist, Kate, sees some nuns, making her feel guilty, for what we know not.
Writes Pavone, "Kate was impressed with how many words this woman used to communicate her ideas." Funny, I was thinking the very same thing about the author!
The biggest problem for me is the character, Kate. She thinks like a man trying to think like a woman, and often it just doesn't work. The biggest failure is the relationship between Kate and Julia. They often relate more like two males would. Kate and Dexter also interact sort of by the numbers. In other words, intimacy is nonexistent.
The author wants to put Kate into predicaments and then think a way out for her but few women I know would have acted that way. Take when Dexter, her husband comes home from work and catches her before she can hide what she is doing. She lets him best her because she can't think of a way to keep him out of the kid's room. Really? Any woman worthy of the name would immediately make a cunningly directed play for her husband, redirecting his attention to sexy teasing. But our Kate, the hard-bitten CIA assassin merely crumples away from the room, giving her husband the upper hand.
Then there's the scene where she boldly hurls herself down an extremely dark, dangerous alleyway, allowing herself to be led to a hard-core "den of inequity," and without a blink of nerves, drops her clothes in front of the armed vicious, crazy bad guys (I don't think even an Angelina Jolie character would do this!), ends up getting what she wants and leaves with impunity. It was as if she swam naked and bloody into the middle of a shark fest and emerged untouched.
Conversely, why did the author put her in male writer's favorite women's position: nighttime, alone, vulnerable, stalked, chased. Yup, there's our Kate again, but this time she is in her own safe neighborhood, knows the layout, is wearing high heels walking toward home ... and she is scared! She worries about her shoes on cobblestones, as well. What! Again, any woman worthy of the name would simply remove the shoes and run, not do as Kate does, cringe with anxiety and then bop the wrong man -- which scene BTW has nothing to do with the plot. It is just in there for "fun." We never find out anything about either man; both disappear from the book.
Another example of her character being "off": here is a woman who LIVES secrets. Her husband doesn't know she is a spy. So what sort of game does she teach her children to amuse them? A spy game she makes up. I don't think so!
If you can get past the detailed minutiae, the inadequate and stiff sounding dialogue, and a main character who never quite comes together, you still have left the suspense, the mystery as it unravels, and several good observations -- such as, "People who were too outgoing made her suspicious. She couldn't help but presume that all the loud noise was created to hide quiet lies." Now that's the way a spy would think!