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The Expats: A Novel Hardcover – March 6, 2012
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A Reader’s Guide for The Expats, A Novel
By Chris Pavone
In order to provide reading groups with the most informed and thought-provoking questions possible, it is necessary to reveal important aspects of the plot of this novel. If you have not finished reading The Expats, we respectfully suggest that you wait before reviewing this guide.
Hailed by Patricia Cornwell as “bristling with suspense” and praised by John Grisham as reminiscent of early novels by Ken Follett, Frederick Forsyth, and Robert Ludlum, The Expats garnered coast-to-coast acclaim, marking the debut of an unforgettable new voice in American fiction.
An international thriller, The Expats is the story of a seemingly ordinary working mom, Kate Moore, whose husband, Dexter, is offered a lucrative job in Luxembourg—a move that will unravel everything they believed about each other. Kate and Dexter have struggled to make ends meet, so they jump at the chance to start a new life abroad with the promise of rich rewards. But Kate has been leading a double life, and leaving America forces her to abandon her dangerous but heroic job. She soon discovers that it will be harder than she thought to shed her past, especially while coping with the weight of an unbearable secret. Dexter seems to be keeping secrets of his own, working long hours for a banking client whose name he can’t reveal. When another American couple befriends them, Kate begins to peel back the layers of deception that surround her, revealing a heart-stopping con that threatens her family, her marriage, and her life.
Sophisticated and expertly crafted, The Expats is set in some of Europe’s most enchanting locales, and races toward a provocative, startling conclusion. We hope this guide will enhance your experience of the pulse-pounding journey.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. How does Kate’s sense of self shift throughout the novel? In the end, how does she reconcile the roles of wife, mom, and adrenaline-seeking agent?
2. In chapter ten, on page ninety-three, Kate thinks about crossing an unspoken line that exists in many marriages: “You know the lines are there, you feel them: the things you don’t discuss. . . . You go about your business, as far away from these lines as possible, pretending they’re not there.” To what degree did Kate and Dexter deceive themselves, as much as they deceived each other? Is complete honesty realistic for most married couples?
3. After working hard to keep her own career a secret from Dexter, why is it hard for Kate to accept his secrecy about his job? Was she setting a double standard or just responding to her well-honed instincts?
4. What were your initial theories about Julia and Bill, and the “Today” scenes?
5. Kate was well suited to her job when she led a solitary life. What did the CIA give her in lieu of love? As she realizes that Dexter and her family are all she has, how does her understanding of love change?
6. What is Hayden’s role in Kate’s life? Do you have a Hayden to rely on?
7. How do Kate and Dexter feel about the power of breadwinners in a marriage? What does their story say about resenting a spouse who doesn’t seem to be contributing (Dexter in America) versus resenting a spouse who seems to be a workaholic (Dexter in Luxembourg)? In the end, which of the novel’s characters prove to be the most materialistic?
8. Kate is haunted by the Torres episode. How did this continue to define her decision making and actions years later? If you were ever in a situation like this, how far would you go to protect your family?
9. Dexter often cites human gullibility as a weakness in I.T. security. Discuss the characters who let their guard down for love, vanity, sex, wealth, or other lures. What ultimately makes Dexter gullible? Does his gullibility make him blameless?
10. As the plot began to unfold, which revelations surprised you the most? What truth was buried beneath the layers of deception?
11. The Expats delivers a highly realistic portrayal of female agents, motherhood, and strong women who outsmart men. What is the effect of knowing that the book was written by a man?
12. Does it matter that the Colonel was bloodthirsty? Do the ends justify the means?
13. What does the novel say about trust and how it is earned? What do Kate and Dexter discover about the strength of their trust for each other?
14. Discuss the life of expatriates in general—a role the author experienced when his wife accepted a job in Luxembourg. If you were to live abroad, where would you want to set up housekeeping? How do expats balance the fact that they’re foreigners with the need to feel at home? Would you enjoy close-knit communities of expat spouses, or would the lack of privacy be hard to handle?
“Bombshell-a-minute. . . . Pavone creates a fascinating, complicated hero.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A gripping spy drama and an artful study of the sometimes cat-and-mouse game of marriage.” —Family Circle
“Smartly executed. . . . Pavone is full of sharp insights into the parallels between political espionage and marital duplicity. . . . Thoroughly captivating.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Superb. . . . [Pavone] expertly draws readers along with well-timed clues and surprises. . . . An engineering marvel.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Expertly and intricately plotted, with a story spiraling into disaster and a satisfyingly huge amount of double-crossing, The Expats certainly doesn’t feel like a first novel. This is an impressively assured entry to the thriller scene.” —The Guardian (London)
“Refreshingly original. . . . Part Ludlum in the pacing, part Le Carré in the complexity of story and character, but mostly Chris Pavone. . . . A thriller so good that you wonder what other ideas [Pavone] has up his cloak, right alongside the obligatory dagger.” —The Star-Ledger
“Amazing. . . . Impossible to put down. . . . Pavone invokes memories of the great writers of spy fiction of the past, and he has the chops to be mentioned with the best of them.” —Associated Press
“A blast. . . . Pavone is spinning a fantastic tale with action that spans the globe.” —Dallas Morning News
“Highly entertaining.” —Mystery Scene
“Thoroughly enjoyable.” —Suspense Magazine
“Hard to put down.” —San Francisco Bay Guardian
“Stunningly assured. . . . An intricate, suspenseful plot that is only resolved in the final pages.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Brilliant, insanely clever, and delectably readable.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“Meticulously plotted, psychologically complex. . . . The sheer amount of bombshell plot twists are nothing short of extraordinary, but it’s Pavone’s portrayal of Kate and her quest to find meaning in her charade of an existence that makes this book such a powerful read.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Impressive. . . . With almost more double-crosses than a body can stand.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“Bristling with suspense and elegantly crafted, The Expats introduces a compelling and powerful female protagonist you won't soon forget. Well done!” —Patricia Cornwell
“I often thought I was again reading the early works of Ken Follett, Frederick Forsyth, and Robert Ludlum. Smart, clever suspense, skillfully plotted, and a lot of fun to read.” —John Grisham
“One of the best-written spy thrillers I've ever read. . . . A riveting story of great-game deceptions wrapped inside the smaller deceptions of marriage. At moments horrifying, hilarious, and very wise, The Expats has given Chris Pavone a permanent place on my short list of must-read authors.” —Olen Steinhauer
“A gem. Clever, suspenseful with a jet fueled story that rockets from one corner of the globe to another, it is never less than a thrill a minute. . . . An absolute winner!” —Christopher Reich
“Spy stories need to budge over to make space for Kate Moore—mother, wife, expat and far more than she appears. I loved her.” —Rosamund Lupton
“Riveting. One of the most accomplished debuts of recent years: not just a worthy addition to the literature of espionage and betrayal, but a fine portrait of a marriage disintegrating under the pressure of secrets and lies.” —John Connolly
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
In keeping with my desire to not give spoilers, I will refrain from explaining character backgrounds and major plot points, at least with any specificity.
Kate, the protagonist, is married to Dexter, and they both have each other fooled, to very different extents, and in very different ways. They have a commitment to each other that transcends the deceptions, and both have very good reasons for their deceptions, though perhaps not reasons with which everyone will have sympathy.
The plot is one with many twists -- a veritable roller-coaster ride -- and takes the reader across various countries and continents, mundane and exotic. It also jumps back and forth in time enough to cause vertigo.
The only serious weak point of the novel, in my opinion, is that the author has the characters' actions mostly occur in their memories, rather than simply showing us all of the action as it occurs. A great deal of the story, action or back-story, is simply explained in dialogue, which is not ideal, but it is still quite interesting.
In my copy, it is stated that this book is "being developed for major theatrical release by CBS films." I think the story lends itself well to a movie version, and possibly will be even stronger as such, but there is little doubt that Pavone is a talented writer (a former editor and ghostwriter), and I expect to see much more of his work.
The strongest recommendation I can give for this novel is that if there were a sequel, I would read it.
Kate never told her husband, Dexter, about her CIA job, and for plot reasons she contemplates telling him now. But she figures, genius that she is, that if she tells him the basic fact of her former profession, she will have to tell him every tiny detail of her work, including an harrowing event she prefers to keep secret. Really? She can't imagine giving an outline of her days as an operative, then claiming the rest is classified? This is the clever CIA spook?
Kate also gives newcomers in her life open access in many ways that we yokels who never held a government clearance find strangely naive. Could our country really count on such simpletons?
The book was twice as long as it should have been, stuffed with filler such as "she grabbed the mouse and moved the cursor". I don't believe anything I've read has droned through that level of detail! Descriptions were terrible, such as "he had the skin of an old Shar Pei". As if the skin of a young Shar Pei was smooth!
The reader of the CD version, Mozhan Marno, was no help. She narrated the voice of all male characters in the same monotonous, low register, making every man sound identically stilted and robotic.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I did like this book, the writing style though, is just a bit repetitive. I'd still recommend the reading of it.Published 14 days ago by Hector D. Iglesias
The writing itself is technically good but the storyline became a bit tedious and contrived. I initially got caught up in seeing where things were heading then later found myself... Read morePublished 14 days ago by john dirnberger
Probably less than five stars but still a good read. Plot is good, maybe a bit simple. Good read if you like spy novels or thrillersPublished 22 days ago by Sam Ting
Great book - twist after twist after twist - hard to put down. Highly recommended!Published 23 days ago by Carol J. Berkus