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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?
"Sly. . . . Pavone strengthens this book with a string of head-spinning revelations in its last pages. . . . The tireless scheming of all four principals truly exceeds all sane expectations.” —The New York Times
“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
On the downside, the author continually shifts back and forth between the present day and earlier periods, incrementally revealing more of the plot as the story progresses. While I understand the reason for this technique, it became a little wearisome after a while, and I felt that it was used to mask an overly linear plot development. In addition, the plot became a little too far-fetched and stretched the bounds of credibility later in the book.
If you enjoy spy vs spy intrigue and don't mind compromises in plot and character development, the book is fine. If you're interested in the nature of American expat life, the book is enlightening. At the end of the day, I came down firmly in the middle on the book. I enjoyed reading it, but I don't know if it is for everyone.
More minor errors abound as well: The Grand Duke is never in residence in the Grand Ducal palace in the city, that's just his office, he lives outside of the city. Belle Etoile, the shopping centre where the two women characters get drenched to the bone running across the open air car park to the gates does have an underground parking facility as well, which sensible people prefer when it is pouring down with rain. And so on and so forth. Oh, and before I forget, very very few people actually live in the old city centre, so it is very surprising that the two couples that make up the novel's main characters do so.
Such small errors in details are not a major problem for people who don't know Luxembourg, but I'm afraid that they are the surface tip of quite a bit of superficiality. There are hardly any locals in the novel; one would be forgiven for thinking Luxembourg is exclusively populated by expats, apart from stangely stubborn waiters in cafés and restaurants, who will only react to French. The author even manages to call the local language Luxembourgeois (in French), in place of the more common 'Luxembourgish'. Caricatures abound (such as the French policeman, in another part of the book, chatting up a pretty girl and oblivious to the traffic chaos developing around him) and one can't help but feeling that the novel betrays a somewhat simplistic and prejudiced view of 'those strange Europeans' from an American.
I also found the novel's structure somewhat difficult to follow: action takes place on three levels: today (Paris), a year or so ago (Luxembourg), further back in the past (the States): there is a constant back and forth between chapters, which is somewhat difficult to follow and tiring. Without wishing to give too many spoilers away, I'd say the end, when all falls into place, is quite improbable. One of the novel's assets is that just when you thought you knew everything, there is a further major twist down the plot. But the downsides of that are, first, that you have to get pretty near the novel's end to get to the stage where you believe you know everything and, before you have time to let this sink in, the next twist arrives and, second, there are irritatingly far too many pointers at various stages in the novel about the fact that all is not what it seems, and this ends up spoiling the fun.
Still, I don't regret buying this.