Author and former expat Chris Pavone, whose thriller, The Expats, goes on sale this week, dropped by Signature to talk about the inspiration behind his "brilliant, insanely clever, and delectably readable" (Library Journal) debut. Was it the year and a half Pavone spent in Luxembourg with his family, living the true expat experience? Was it the novels of John Le Carré? Or was it a handful of contemporary classic movies with one big, fat theme? Read on ...
"What's your inspiration? What writers influenced you?" I've recently been asked these questions a lot. My espionage thriller The Expats is set in Luxembourg, so I feel compelled to search my memory for favorite spy novels (most of which were written by John Le Carré) or favorite books about being an expat (The Sun Also Rises, Netherland, Prague, The Imperfectionists). But the truth is that none of those influenced me much. Because although my book does indeed have an espionage element, that's not really what it's about; and I found all the expat inspiration I needed by living in Luxembourg for a year and a half.
No, the more important influences on the plot of The Expats came from films. And not especially movies about spying or expat life, but about something more universal: a big fat lie. A tremendous whopper, a life-defining untruth that isn't revealed until the very end. A not-necessarily-malicious misrepresentation, usually told to the most important person in a character's life, building layers of suspense and complexity. This is what The Expats is really about: what happens when we can't trust those around us. And the same is true for these highly enjoyable films, all about different types of lies, told to different types of people, for different types of reasons:
"The End of the Affair"
Directed by Neil Jordan, starring Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore, 1999
Let's call this version Lying to Your Lover. A heartbreaking adaptation of Graham Greene's superb novel, which is not only a great story about a fascinating lie, but a great story, period. And one in which God plays a somewhat surprising role.
Directed by Tony Gilroy, starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, 2009
If there's a single film whose double-crossing acrobatics inspired me to convolute my plot in The Expats, it's this Lying to a Liar film, in which the duplicities are added in thick layers, as a CIA agent squares off against an MI6, then both move into an even more shadowy world of shifting allegiances.
Directed by Harold Becker, starring Alec Baldwin, Nicole Kidman, and Bill Pullman, 1993
Ooh. And then: Ouch. And then: Ugh. This is Lying to Your Spouse writ huge, and long-term, and almost - but not quite - unbelievably; I couldn't anticipate the full extent to which I should've been guessing until the very end. With a wonderful screenplay co-written by Aaron Sorkin, and a dazzling cast that includes Bebe Neuwirth, George C. Scott, and a superb Anne Bancroft, not to mention a pre-famous Gwyneth Paltrow.
"No Way Out"
Directed by Roger Donaldson, starring Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman, 1987
The Secretary of Defense kills his mistress, in a fit of rage about her infidelity. Because she had also been involved with the Navy hero who ends up investigating her murder ... and working for the DoD! Obviously a perilous situation, and that's merely the setup to an almost unbearably tense Lying to Your Job story with a jaw-dropping denouement.
"The Usual Suspects"
Directed by Bryan Singer, starring Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, and Chazz Palminteri, 1995
And finally, there's this brilliant riff on Lying to Absolutely Everyone, with a title drawn from a line in "Casablanca" spoken by Claude Raines's Captain Renault (who of course also uttered the world-defining lie "I am shocked - shocked - to find that gambling is going on in here!"), and a final twist that will make your head spin.
Chris Pavone grew up in Brooklyn and graduated from Cornell. For nearly two decades he was a book editor and ghostwriter; he is also the author of The Wine Log. Chris and his family have lived in Luxembourg, but recently returned to New York City. The Expats is his first novel.