Here at Parnassus, our manager Andy Brennan loved The Travelers and The Expats by bestselling novelist Chris Pavone, so it was no surprise that he snapped up Pavone’s new novel, The Paris Diversion, as soon as he could get his hands on it. Andy’s verdict: Not only will this suspenseful espionage story keep you riveted; it also evokes Paris so vividly it might make you want to book a ticket to France. On that note, we asked Pavone to recommend some of his favorite thrillers set around the world. Enjoy!
A decade ago, when I started writing The Expats, I was living in Luxembourg, taking weekend trips with my wife and kids and dog to Paris and Amsterdam, driving our German car with an EU license to lunch in France with friends from Sweden and the UK, skiing in the Alps — trying to be a citizen of the world, or at least of Western Europe. Now that we live back in New York, it’s no longer as easy to pop up to Delft or Bruges for the weekend, but I still travel frequently, though now mostly while in an armchair, with globetrotting suspense novels to places like these. –Chris Pavone
Scandinavian crime fiction tends toward psychopathic murderers and sunless winter landscapes — grim stuff — but this particular Swedish author takes a different approach, with less bleak stories about more relatable crimes, in very non-Scandi settings: The Swede takes place largely on the remote Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, and the gripping follow-up, After the Monsoon, in Djibouti. Karjel has a deft efficiency with language and storytelling, eliding unnecessary sentences and lines of dialogue and action, and getting quickly to the heart of everything — scene setting, character development, plot progression. None of it is spare, but it’s all expertly constructed, richly detailed, and immensely enjoyable. (Find my full New York Times review of the book here.)
Geneva. Does that name conjure excitement and romance? If so, you’ve probably never been there, or you have a fetish for precise schedules and somber business attire. Cristina Alger does a terrific job of transforming the bureaucrat-and-banker housewifery tedium into a fast-paced financial thriller, with a high-stakes plot that hinges on the hidden bank accounts of some of the world’s most dangerous people.
When I was growing up, my family spent all summer every summer driving around Latin America; in the aggregate, I’ve spent nearly two years of my life in Mexico, without ever having lived there. Perhaps it’s this familiarity that makes me disappointed in most American writing involving Mexico, which tends to approach from two opposite extremes — simplistic tales of violent drug cartels on the one hand, or naïve romanticism on the other. But Ms. Wright hits a sweet spot that offers both an intimate portrait of credible, relatable characters in tough situations as well as realistic depictions of violent crime, plus an excavation of the sorts of American exploitation that engender much of the crime to begin with. (And I love this essay by Wright about writing the book.)
What could be more far flung than the winter-frozen crossing between Alaska and Russia over the Bering Strait? Perhaps only the location that dominates this terrific adventure yarn: a secret scientific station — the source of the central mystery — tucked deep into the frosty Siberian tundra. Kolymsky Heights is in the traveler’s-tale tradition — from Gulliver’s Travels and Heart of Darkness to The Da Vinci Code — where the protagonist-on-a-quest encounters increasingly serious challenges in increasingly unfamiliar situations until a culminating confrontation. The arc is familiar, as is the hyper-competent loner protagonist, but Davidson puts his own indelible stamp on these compelling conventions.
A big, complex, and thoroughly entertaining espionage story that pits an American operative code-named Pilgrim against a jihadist with spectacularly destructive plans; the stakes are extremely high. At times I suspected that this book might be better off if a hundred pages here or there were pared away into another novel, but that was illusory: it is in fact the epic sweep and peripatetic action of I Am Pilgrim — Switzerland and France, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Lebanon and Moscow and Beijing, it’s downright dizzying — that are central to what makes this story so rewarding. I purchased my paperback at the Edinburgh airport en route to Stockholm, after hearing Hayes speak at a crime-fiction festival in Harrogate, England, where I was struck by his explicit desire to write a sprawling character-driven novel on his own terms, after a successful film career in which everything is a convoluted collaboration. (For more, listen to this podcast.) If you want just a few hours’ entertainment, do something else. I Am Pilgrim is like binge-watching not just a whole season, but three of them.
* * *
Stop by and let us fill up your basket with thrilling summer reading — or gifts for Father’s Day. (If you’re shopping this list online, simply click any title or cover to add it to your cart.) While you’re at it, don’t forget to grab a copy of Pavone’s latest, The Paris Diversion. What it’s about:
American expat Kate Moore drops her kids at the international school, makes her rounds of chores, and meets her husband Dexter at their regular café: a leisurely start to a normal day, St-Germain-des-Prés.
Across the Seine, tech CEO Hunter Forsyth stands on his balcony, wondering why his police escort just departed, and frustrated that his cell service has cut out; Hunter has important calls to make, not all of them technically legal.
And on the nearby rue de Rivoli, Mahmoud Khalid climbs out of an electrician’s van and elbows his way into the crowded courtyard of the world’s largest museum. He sets down his metal briefcase, and removes his windbreaker.
That’s when people start to scream.
“Sleek, cunning and breakneck, Chris Pavone’s The Paris Diversion sweeps you into its frenetic rhythms from its first pages. With a sprawling cast of characters, with its scissoring plot twists, and especially with Kate—as rich and complicated a hero as you could hope for—it keeps you returning for more and more. A knockout.”—Megan Abbott (Give Me Your Hand, You Will Know Me)