MANY women have found themselves at a juncture similar to that in which Kate Moore is at the start of her novel The Expats - where fulfilling adult-world work is incompatible with running a child-populated household.
Overwhelmed by the emotional tussle over having opted for less challenging work, Kate is thankful when her dependable husband, Dex, proffers a new lifestyle. They are moving from Washington DC to Luxembourg, where Dex will have enormously lucrative work providing internet security to banks; and Kate does not work.
At first Kate embraces this "at-home mum" lifestyle, but she is soon bored by the endless school drop-offs, coffee meetings with other expat mums, gossip, pot-scrubbing, and meal planning. For intrigue there is speculation over whether certain mums are shagging the tennis coach.
For a former CIA agent it's excruciating.
The time on her hands gives Kate the chance to go over a haunting event in her working past, one in which she overstepped the mark so much she is still looking over her shoulder. Then she becomes curious at her husband's odd and evasive behaviour; and intrigued by fellow expats Bill and Julia McLean, who are effusively friendly and strangely interested in the Moores. Kate starts to investigate, racked by guilt, especially at digging into Dex's business because she chose him because he seemed so ordinary.
"This was what had originally appealed to Katherine: a man who was completely un-ironic, un-arch, un-cool, un-studied. Dexter was straightforward, readable, dependable and nice. The men in her professional world were manipulative, vain, ruthless and selfish. Dexter was her antidote. " Kate knows all this - she did a background check on him before agreeing to marriage.
To add to Kate's guilt, Dex has no idea she has any spy skills. Her emotional turmoil, and the compulsion she feels to explore beyond the surface of her newly perfect lifestyle, are expertly explored by Chris Pavone; he has managed to crawl expertly about in the head of a modern mum, delivering an entirely believable protagonist.
The more Kate stirs the surface, the stranger her particular Pleasantville reveals itself to be.
Towards the end, Kate makes a decision that is understandable, but jarring. It also leaves one wondering how Pavone will get Kate out of a particular corner to continue (presuming he plans more Kate Moore books, and why wouldn't he?) her new life. Perhaps he meant to do that?
Pavone worked as an editor in publishing for 15 years before writing this, his first novel, and it shows. The Expats is well crafted and superbly paced, its characters rounded and authentic. The twists in personality are matched by plot twists that keep the reader guessing to the end.
TITLE: The Expats
AUTHOR: Chris Pavone
PUBLISHER: Faber and Faber