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Travelers by Pavone Cover

The first thing I read from Christopher Pavone was The Accident, which knocked me out (thrillers are probably my favorite genre, when they are done well). The follow-up, The Expats, convinced me that he was not a one-hit wonder, so I was happy to receive an advance copy of The Travelers (in exchange for my honest review), and I settled in last weekend to savor what I thought would be a fast-paced glove-trotting story full of deception, lies and deceit, with clearly drawn characters and detailed, intriguing setting…

The bottom line is that this was NOT exactly what I expected…AND I loved it. For the first half of the book, I was reading interesting exploits centered around journalist Will Rhodes, a writer for Travelers magazine, and his wife, Chloe, who worked at Travelers prior to Will being hired there, and who has recently left – or has she? But it wasn’t at all clear what was going on. Two other people at The Travelers are Malcolm Somers, the boss (following the mysterious disappearance of the previous guy) and Gabriella (aka “Gabs”), who has taken on a New-York based management position, giving up her own globe-trotting following the death of her husband. Malcolm is a classic middle-aged success story, complete with multiple homes, gorgeous wife, etc. A long-time employee of Travelers, he thinks “This is probably what it means to be middle-aged: to be horrified by the irresponsibility of your own youth.” Gabs is just a mystery for the longest time!

Throughout this first half of the book, there are cryptic little clues, and several things that strongly evoked what I call the “WTF ? Factor. ” Several times I found myself using my Kindle search feature as I had thoughts along the lines of “wait a minute, who the hell is Taylor Lindquist again?”

I love the way Pavone’s descriptive skills reveal so much about his characters: early on, he gives clues to his characters’ real natures: describing a minor character Alonso, he writes “For some people violence is woven into their fabric, like the bright blood-red thread that his grandmother would weave into the turquoise and indigo serapes on her loom.” Then, when Will returns home from a trip, speaking of Chloe, he writes “She hates it when Will comes home in the middle of the night, wearing inebriated sexual arousal like a game-day athletic uniform…”

I can’t actually talk about the story without spoiling it… I can only relate that it was a long, slow buildup to the big reveal about the Travelers, and that the ride was incredibly well done. The really memorable thing for me is just the reading, finding out things along the way, as Pavone shows his  skills at describing both people and settings, which made for an enjoyable read.

For example, he talks about how, in a somewhat clandestine meeting, Will “Walks past the sneeze-guarded steam tables, suffused with the ineffable sadness of dinners plucked from a cheap deli’s salad bar.”

And relating the atmosphere in the city: “…the subway rumbles through one slum after another, graffiti on the station walls, the stench of urine when the doors open, busted overhead lights, the ever present possibility of malevolence amid all this malignant neglect, where the real-estate stick is unredeemed and unredeemable – housing projects and six-story apartment buildings with trash-strewn concrete courtyards, abandoned buildings alongside empty lots filled with junk and junkies, police-cruiser lights flashing and engines revving as the sedans race between disaster and tragedy, cops getting out warily, hands on holsters.” Seriously, this gave me the creeps and was so vivid I could both see and feel the scene.

It’s not just his skill with setting:  the description of people (both individually and in crowds)  is spot-on, as the following scene (which will resonate with anyone who has visited popular tourist destinations) shows: “This crowd is heavy on professional-looking tourists in their task-specific lightweight water-wicking manmade-fiber gear, with profuse zippers and pockets and mesh vents for breathability. There are hobbled undefeated old people, and panic-stricken Chinese, and towering magenta-haired German women and skinny smoky Frenchmen, everyone all pressed together, waiting to take the glossy brochure and hang the audio player around their necks, like digital cowbells.” Wow, I felt like I was back at the Smithsonian or the Louvre!

And then there are the moments when he leaves zero doubt about the people as he describes a scene, as when he visits the old man Katz, who has collected decades of magazines: “…a living room that’s an explosion of clutter, magazines and papers and books everywhere…the lingering aroma of pipe tobacco layered atop the fresh scent of takeout-Chines garlic with undertones of litter box. This is the type of room Will has nightmares about.” AWESOME!

As I said, for more than half the book, I was wondering where it was all going, although there were lots of clues, both subtle and not, along the way. But I KNEW it was going to all come together and it did! Thanks, NetGalley – FIVE STARS.