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by Chris Pavone
Faber & Faber, January 2013
485 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0571279171

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Kate Moore has re-invented herself, trading her double life as a CIA agent with a past she would rather forget for that of an expat mum when her husband is offered a high earning job in Luxembourg. But when another American couple arrive, she becomes suspicious they are not all they appear and that her past is catching up with her.

Former book editor Chris Pavone's reward for his assured, impressive, relentlessly clever and incredibly complicated entry into the ranks of authors has been a place on the New York Times bestseller list. If there were a special award for the most intricate plot with more twists than the Gordian knot, he'd win it hands down.

This cunningly constructed story is written with an elegance rare in first time authors and his characters are beautifully drawn. This is an outstanding piece of work that also raises some interesting moral and topical questions such as is it ever all right to steal, is our money ever safe, is anyone what they seem and do they ever tell the whole truth? It also gives a twenty-first century twist to Juvenal's query: 'Quis custodiet ipsos custodes' Who guards the guards?

Pavone's protagonist is Kate Moore, an undercover CIA agent with a past she is seeking to hide. She leaves the Company for the coffee-morning and charity event life of an expat mum with her IT security expert husband who has been offered a lucrative job in Luxembourg. She becomes suspicious of another newly arrived American couple who appear to be not what they seem and fears her former life is catching up with her. As she probes deeper, suspicions also arise about her so-ordinary husband, the man on whom she has anchored her new life.

Set mainly in Europe, the action switches between present day Paris, Washington and Luxembourg over a period of two years as Kate makes certain discoveries and earlier events and conversations suddenly become clear.

Although the book is cleverly crafted and well presented, I found it a shade disappointing. Probably I am hopelessly out of touch with even the concept of cyber crime, but the moral ambivalence of the main characters and the coincidence of their meeting seemed to stretch the plot just a little too far. But despite that, Pavone writes both insightfully and with real competence from his heroine's point of view, something rare in a male author. Kate is a startlingly real woman, dealing with the possibilities of her marriage falling apart while satisfying the needs of two young children, who with some of the almost aimless expat social interactions, provide some of the lighter moments in what is otherwise a high tension story. His own experience as an expat is apparent from the way he effectively conveys the atmosphere of European cities and expat life, characterisation is realistic and the dialogue believable.

John Cleal is a former soldier and journalist with an interest in medieval history. He divides his time between France and England.

Reviewed by John Cleal, April 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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