Author Interviews
6:04 pm
Sun March 25, 2012

Secrets And Lies Overseas In 'The Expats'

Originally published on Tue March 20, 2012 11:32 am

Kate Moore is bored.

Every day, she gets her kids off to school, cooks, cleans and shops, occasionally has coffee with other stay-at-home moms, folds laundry. Then she gets up the next day and does it all over again.

All-day domesticity is no life for a former CIA assassin — even one who has given up the game to move to Luxembourg for her husband's mysterious new banking job.

Luckily for Kate — the heroine of author Chris Pavone's new thriller, The Expats -- life is about to get interesting. Pavone tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Laura Sullivan that while he was never a CIA agent, his life and Kate's have many parallels.

"Both Kate and I left behind careers in the United States that we were no longer that enamored with, and we were ready to make a big change, and ready to do something else and be someone else," he says.

Both Kate and her creator ran up against the difficulties of raising children and making a new home in a foreign country. "Those things are partially exciting and mostly dreadfully boring," he says.

But Luxembourg is a great place to reinvent yourself. "If you want to, you can totally just become someone else," he says. "Because the person you're talking to is from the Maldives, or Spain, and you're not. And the things in your life that would get you caught if you were lying aren't there to get you caught."

In The Expats, everyone's lying about almost everything — from Kate and her husband to the mysterious American couple who just keep showing up in their lives.

"There are four main characters in the book, and they're all keeping secrets, and they're all keeping those secrets from the most important people in their lives," Pavone says.

But, he adds, the secrets and the lies are almost defensible in a way. Everyone in The Expats believes in what they're doing. "They're not simple lies," he says. "They're lies that have a reason to them."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:

Kate Moore is bored.

CHRIS PAVONE: (Reading) She went grocery shopping and lugged bags. She prepared breakfast and packed lunches and cooked dinner and washed dishes. She sorted laundry, dried it, folded it, put it into drawers and on hangers and hooks. When she finished the chores, it was time to start each and every one of them again.

SULLIVAN: All-day domesticity is no life for a former CIA assassin. Luckily for Kate, though, her life is about to take a dangerous turn. Author Chris Pavone - that's his voice you just heard - set his new thriller, "The Expats," in Luxembourg, where Kate has relocated with her banker husband. And when Kate meets another overly friendly American couple who keeps turning up in unexpected places, she begins to suspect that something's not quite right. Chris, I'm guessing that you were never a CIA agent, right?

PAVONE: I was not, no.

SULLIVAN: But you did live in Luxembourg.

PAVONE: I definitely did.

SULLIVAN: You have - in addition to living in Luxembourg, you have a lot in common with your main character, Kate.

PAVONE: I do. Both Kate and I left behind careers in the United States that we were no longer that enamored with, and we were ready to make big change and ready to do something else and to be someone else. And we moved abroad for our spouses' opportunities to a place we'd never heard of, or even remotely considered, a place like Luxembourg. And we discovered that being a stay-at-home parent to small children and setting up a whole new life in a whole new place where you don't speak the language, those things are partially exciting and mostly dreadfully boring.

And when I started writing this book, I started writing a much more honest book about this life. And I'd written in excess of 100 pages, and then sadly that book began to bore me. And I was very disappointed to be writing a book that bored me, and so I cast around for other things to add to it. And one of the biggest themes in the book - and it's a real-life theme as well as a spy story theme - is the idea that there are certain times in your life when you want to or have to reinvent yourself.

When I started trying to think about ways to amplify that universal experience, it struck me that if she had been doing something incredibly secret beforehand, that would really heighten the drama. And what is more secret than being a spy. And what is more secret than being a spy whose spouse does not know it?

SULLIVAN: Well, Luxembourg seems like a pretty good place, then, to reinvent yourself, to create yourself in a new place. And especially in your book, that plays a big role in the book. And everybody seems to be hiding something in this book.

PAVONE: Yes. I don't think that everybody in Luxembourg is hiding all that much, except their money.

SULLIVAN: Except for money.

PAVONE: Yeah, that's it. But it did strike me that I - it's a very, very strange place that's unconnected to a lot of people's other lives. And there's almost no way to stumble across somebody in Luxembourg who you knew somewhere else. And your - the things in your life that would get you caught if you were lying aren't there to get you caught.

SULLIVAN: There are so many layers to peel back from all of these characters, and they have such a difficult time being honest with each other and sort of having an open conversation about who they really are and what they really want. How important was that to the novel, to the storyline?

PAVONE: That's a basic premise of the novel, is that there is no character, from the protagonists down to the bit players, who will turn out to be the person you thought they were. They are all hiding something rather large. And even characters who appear in just one scene, I hope to make it clear that even that person at the beginning of the scene is not the same person at the end of the scene. And I think that's the way I feel about meeting a lot of people. The first reactions are so important and so hard to overcome but so often not to be trusted.

SULLIVAN: They're not just hiding things from each other, they're also sort of hiding things from themselves.

PAVONE: Yeah, all very exaggerated and heightened way of pointing out that we all have secrets of one level or another. And some of these are secrets we keep from our spouses, and some of them are simply secrets we keep from casual acquaintances, and some of them are secrets that we keep from ourselves. And in a way, Kate, the protagonist, is the one that has the most secrets.

But there are four main characters in the book, and they're all keeping secrets, and they're all keeping those secrets from the most important people in their lives. And I think they lie rather well. Their lies are defensible, and there are even good, ethical reasons to keep some of these lies, I hope, though they're not simple lies. They're not lies. I didn't do that. They're lies that have a reason to them.

SULLIVAN: Your family - you and your family are back in New York now.

PAVONE: We are.

SULLIVAN: And you're now - you're writing a new book now.

PAVONE: I am writing a new book.

SULLIVAN: Is - does Kate - is Kate coming back, or is this the end of Kate?

PAVONE: Kate is coming back. I don't know if she's coming back in the new book. If she is coming back in the new book, it will not be as the protagonist. The new book will not be a sequel to this. But it might be related. Is that cagey enough for you?

SULLIVAN: That's good. That's good. No, I like that. That's Chris Pavone. His new novel is "The Expats." Chris, thanks so much for coming in.

PAVONE: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.