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By Chris Pavone

Crown Publishers, 2012 ($26.00)

ISBN-13: 978-0-307-95635-4
Kindle eBook: ($12.99)
eISBN 978-0-307-95637-8

Reviewed by Sam Waas

London taxi drivers are required to pass a rigorous license exam that demonstrates what is respectfully called "The Knowledge." Cabbies, given a start point and destination, must recite each twisted, narrow, and ancient alley traversed along the way. Whether the ubiquitous GPS has obviated The Knowledge these days I don't know, but having such an encyclopedic memory of medieval city streets is still impressive.

I'm not however as impressed with having to pick my way through such a catalog to read nearly every chapter of a mystery novel. Whenever the THE EXPATS characters travel, whether in Paris, London, Luxembourg, or other European cities and surrounding countryside, each street, each intersection, each turn of the road is meticulously documented. No reader should ever fear getting lost. The same applies to articles of clothing worn, morsels of food consumed, glasses of wine tasted, furniture sat upon, ad infinitum. And at times, ad nauseum.

I wish THE EXPATS had received a more judicious edit, because the story itself is superb. The novel's just a bit too long, much of this wordiness to be blamed on the excessive description of streets, food, and furniture. Establishing locale is essential for verisimilitude but it's overdone in THE EXPATS. And these details hamper what is otherwise a first rank mystery.

Author Chris Pavone nevertheless achieves an admirable goal, that of a male writer correctly depicting the emotions and drives of a female protagonist. This is particularly difficult if the person is an action-thriller heroine, for whom the character of Kate Moore clearly fits. Too often a male writer simply describes a "guy in a gal suit" but Pavone lovingly draws for us a sympathetic female with passion, intelligence, and personality that is undeniably the makeup of a modern woman, authentic love for her husband and two small sons, but also driven by her smoky past. Not since Robert Harris' Clarice Starling have I read a female heroine as accurately portrayed by a male author.

THE EXPATS is a terrific international espionage thriller. Kate Moore and her husband Dexter move from Washington, DC to Luxembourg where he can take a job as a computer analyst for a bank. For those who don't know, Luxembourg is like Geneva, a center for billions of highly protected and secure monetary transactions, many of them questionable at best.

Carefully, Pavone uncovers layer after layer of the mysteries surrounding this nuclear family of American emigrants, and with each revelation, we are drawn further into this story, and the darker and more sinister facts emerge. I was engaged from the beginning.

THE EXPATS is such a fine and intelligent novel that I strongly recommend the book despite the nagging overuse of minutae that often causes the story to sag. Fans of modern international intrigue will enjoy THE EXPATS. It's realistic and has a compelling flavor often missing from the more lurid of spy novels.

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