The Paris Diversion
By Chris Pavone
Crown; hardcover, $27.00; available Tuesday, May 7
Chris Pavone's debut novel, The Expats, was released in 2012, and the twisty and sophisticated narrative received high praise form John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell, drew comparisons Graham Greene, and was bought by CBS for film.
The protagonists from that exhilarating work are back in Pavone's new novel, The Paris Diversion, which is a thriller set in the City of Lights.
Kate is an expat mom who is being pulled in every direction, all the time. Parenting pulls her away from while, while a perilous job pulls her away from her kids, and stressful professional travel pulls her away from her husband, from the damaged relationship that she's trying hard to repair.
It is a daily battle to remain relevant as she clings to an intelligence career that seems to be slipping from her, with every day a change to salvage or ruin it.
Pavone writes of a typical day for Kate, and how life has changed in Paris, "After the Charlie Hebdo massacre, sirens begin to take on a new significance, triggering more vital concerns. Then the November attacks ratcheted up the tension further, and then again the Champs-Elysees shooting, these events produced a permanent propensity to generalized panic.
"Sirens no longer suggest a multicar pile-up on the peripherique or a gangland shoot-out in St. Denis - somebody else's problem, somewhere else. These days, sirens could mean a nightclub shooting, hostages in a grocery store, a madman in a museum. Sirens could mean that Kate should storm into school, drag out her children, initiate one of her emergency protocols, go-bags from the linen closet, the always-gassed-up car in the garage, speeding out of the city toward the secret farmhouse in the Ardennes, or the airbase in Ruhr, or somewhere else, anywhere else.
"These days, sirens could mean anything.
"It's what everyone is talking about, the shopkeepers, restaurateurs, hoteliers. Tourism is down. Locals are wary. Customers scarce. Soldiers and police patrol the streets in threes and fours, heavily armed, flak-jacket clad. Not only near the ministries and embassies, the busy commercial boulevards and the famous monuments, but everywhere, soldiers are loitering even here, on sedate residential streets.
"The military has become a permanent presence, the new normal. Sharpshooters have taken positions in the latticework of the Eiffel Tower, the flying buttresses of Notre-Dame, the neocalssical roof of the Arc de Triomphe. Everyone is getting used to it...
"Kate hears a second siren, coming from another direction.
"The other moms seem to be oblivious to the noise, nattering about nothing. Kate tunes them out, scans the bulletin board next to her, push-pinned with notices for kids' activities, community meetings, nannies, holidays, the week's lunch menu - symbols for organic, for local, for vegetarian - next to the list of every kid's allergies, right out there on the sidewalk for anyone to see.
"The goodbyes begin. With all this cheek kissing, it takes forever to say hello and goodbye. Like adding a whole new category of daily chore, no every morning you have to iron a shirt, mop the kitchen floor...
"As much time as Kate needs to spend kissing all these women, she's increasingly unwelcome to kiss her own children, not in public, especially not the mortified older one. But Kate is confident that her younger boy is just going along with that pose because that's what younger siblings do; she knows that Ben still wants his mother's kisses. So she sneaks them onto his head when Jake isn't looking, an open secret right there in a crowd.
"The sirens are closing in.
"Now other people finally being to react, to tilt their heads, dart their eyes, searching for whatever proximate threat might be attracting the police...
"Everyone turns in unison, to where the narrow street ends at a broad boulevard, glimpses toward through the gap of a convoy zooming past, motorcycles followed by squad cars followed by armored trucks then more motorcycles sweeping up the rear, all those dark-blue vehicles with lights flashing, a thundering herd galloping in the direction of the river, the museums, the presidential palace, it's all just over there, spitting distance.
"It's terror that's amassing in Kate, a sense that something is very wrong.
"Maybe it's finally here: payback for all her mistakes. Her parenting mistakes and filial ones, her professional mistakes, matrimonial, her wrongdoings in every segment of life. She wakes up every single morning prepared for it to happen, for her life to be assailed.
"Maybe it's today."
A suicide bomber has arrived at the Louvre, it is not someone else's problem. Kate digs into the dangerous events unfolding across the city, with multiple bomb threats, a missing CEO, and her husband's risky business move, and she discovers that this citywide attack is not at all what it seems, and that the past she thought was behind her is closer than she thinks.
Author Appearance: Chris Pavone will be appearing at Barnes & Noble Tribeca on Wednesday, May 8 at 7:00 p.m. It is located at 97 Warren Street, (212)587-5389.
My conversation with Chris Pavone:
What inspired you to write this book?
The Paris Diversion was inspired by my experience on 9/11, living just blocks from the World Trade Center. From our loft I had an up-close view of many horrifying things, and thought I was maybe going to die a couple of times. Then we were evacuated from our home for a month, and eventually returned to live in what had become the Frozen Zone, with National Guardsmen at the newly erected perimeter fencing, the constant stench of the immense piles of smoldering rubble that weren’t extinguished for 100 days, a city under a long-term terror siege that looked permanent. It of course wasn’t. But 15 years later, I visited a Paris that was reeling from the aftermath of their own terror attacks, and the city felt an awful lot like New York in the fall of 2001—a definite sense that there was something bad coming. That’s a very specific, very powerful fear, which I wanted to be the central tension of a novel. I set to work immediately with my laptop in a Left Bank café.
Do you think readers will be happy to see the return of Kate and Dexter from The Expats?
I hope so! The Expats was an instant New York Times bestseller, well-reviewed, won a couple of awards, optioned for film—everything went right for that book, and it ended up in a lot of hands. I’ve received countless emails over the years about Kate Moore; she’s the character of mine whom readers have responded to the strongest. So I was thrilled to come up with a new book idea for the Moores.
How inspiring is Kate, a woman who deals with everyday issues who is working at a top-secret operation?
A decade ago, I followed my wife’s career from New York to a new life in Luxembourg, and found myself without my well-established identities—career, friends, home. I used the challenges and frustrations of this unsettled, unfamiliar life to create this fictional character of Kate Moore, a person who was going through a very similar experience of becoming an expat trailing spouse, of trying to create a whole new life for her family, and a whole new identify for herself. This is an exciting moment, but not without risks, and I think Kate’s predicament is something we can all relate to. I really wanted Kate to seem like a real person, not any type of superhero. I think genuine characters are much more inspiring than cartoons.
This book had a very cinematic feel and a style where you reveal all the main characters, who are all strangers, and then it all comes together. How does that style capture crime novels perfectly?
So many of our filmed entertainments are crime fiction, whether TV shows or films (though I think the distinction is increasingly irrelevant). We’re very accustomed to the visual representations of these sorts of stories—espionage and domestic suspense and cozy mystery and courtroom drama and police procedural and psychological thriller, we’ve seen all of it on one screen or another, time and again. Part of what drew me to writing in the genre is this cinematic quality that’s so appropriate for crime fiction, stories that can work perfectly on both page and screen. I try to use that to the reader’s advantage by approaching every scene visually: I want you to be able to see the setting, the action, the movement. I want you to feel like you’re there, in my books. Which is what film does too.
How will New Yorkers who went through 9/11 be able to see the similarities to the aftermath of the attack to how your characters recover?
I think for any New Yorker who was here then, 9/11 was the defining moment of our lifetimes, a deep trauma that lingered for a long time, and still hasn’t completely gone away. We all know that another terrorist event is possible—maybe even inevitable—someday. And I think we can all recognize how other people in other cities respond to their own terrorist events, how they rise and unite, even while they’re still terrorized, mourning, recovering. The Paris Diversion is a 9/11 novel that happens to take place in Paris.
Where in New York City do you live? Do you know other writers in the area since it’s a literary haven?
Over the past couple of decades my wife and I have lived together in five New York apartments (also one in Luxembourg), all in the Village except for the Tribeca loft where we lived in 2001 and for some years after. I do know plenty of writers in the area, also editors and publishers; sometimes the streets around here feel like a book-publishing conference. In a good way.
Do you think there is an appetite for your books in these tumultuous times when the news is filled with stories of cyberwarfare, Russia ratcheting up tensions, and other international intrigue?
The past few years have definitely not been good for the fiction business. Real life has dominated publicity outlets and to-read piles; many people who used to consume a steady diet of novels are now spending much of that time with the news in one medium or another. And I think the outlandish plot twists of our current events have made it difficult for fiction to keep up. But the United States is a very big country with a voracious appetite for media, and even a slightly diminished fiction audience is still a huge audience. If 1 percent of adult Americans read any given book, that book is a tremendous bestseller. So I don’t concern myself with the ups and downs of audience size (which even if I were concerned, I couldn’t do anything about). I concern myself with the writing the best possible books I can write.