Many of us are familiar with the story of Pinocchio. He's a wooden puppet carved by an Italian named Geppetto and he dreams of becoming a real live boy. Unlike my sons, who don't make eye contact when they're untruthful, when Pinocchio tells a lie, his wooden nose grows longer.
A nose like Pinocchio's would have made life impossible for Katherine, the main character in Chris Pavone's The Expats, published by Crown in March 2012. She and her husband Dexter are 30-somethings who live in Washington, D.C. and have two sons, four and five years old. Dexter is a geeky freelance security consultant specializing in cybercrime. Katherine writes position papers on international trade and development for the U.S. government. Except she doesn't. Her life for 15 years has been a lie, with one particularly painful secret. Not even her husband knows the truth about her. In fact, Katherine married Dexter because he is "her antidote," an unfailingly honest man.
The reality of her new life is tough. It becomes a series of play dates and monotonous household chores. She feels isolated and lonely. Kate becomes acquainted with other expatriates, but one friendly American couple arouses her suspicions. They may not be who they claim. Even worse, Dexter is rarely home and when he is, he's distant and evasive about his job. She doesn't even know the name of his bank, let alone where it's located. Formerly, Kate was happy not to know everything about Dexter, because if she did, he'd want to know everything about her. Now Dexter's secretiveness confounds Kate because she knows Dexter is a good man.
Oscar Wilde said, "The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties" and Kate, troubled by her secrets, dreads the truth of this. In Luxembourg, a tax haven built on privacy, she feels surrounded by hidden agendas and deception. Kate's fellow liars may have the skills and motivation to uncover her own dishonesty. She can't stand it. Kate begins a risky investigation that exposes major crimes hidden under layer after layer of lies and double dealing.
|Photograph of Chris Pavone by Nina Subin|
Pavone was an expatriate in Luxembourg and this creates a wealth of interesting material for his book. The transient nature of friendships among expatriates, who arrive and later simply disappear. Their struggles to do errands or shopping that would be simple in their countries of origin. Pavone, like Kate, may have put together an Ikea dresser from 300+ pieces and felt inundated by ham sandwiches. Who knows whether his life ever contained an important deception, but the haunting nature of Kate's secrets is both plausible and touching. The endless scheming is mind-boggling.
The writing is elegant and rich in description without distracting from the plot. The plot is delicious in its unexpectedness and slow revelation of the truth. It's structured in two alternating threads. The book begins at 10:52 AM today in Paris. The time and location then shifts to two years earlier in Washington, D.C. The rest of the book weaves back and forth, not only between these two ultimately connecting threads, but within each thread as well, because Kate's thoughts shift the story among characters, time and place. It helps that the two threads are in different fonts but even so, the reader must pay close attention. At the beginning, I felt a little discombobulated by the shifts within a thread but this problem quickly passed.
I could easily read The Expats again with enjoyment. My thanks to Bonnie, one of Read Me Deadly's readers, for suggesting it.