The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone - book review: Heart-pounding, gut-wrenching and with a denouement that ties together the mystery with exceptional mastery

The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone
The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone

Ever since his outstanding debut novel, The Expats, was published in 2012, US author Chris Pavone has had a hankering to write a sequel.

The Expats – a gripping international spy thriller starring smart and sassy ex-CIA agent Kate Moore – was an instant hit with readers and critics, winning both the Edgar and Anthony Awards for best first novel.

But it wasn’t until his wife gifted him a solo week’s holiday in Paris that ideas for the long-simmering sequel started to fall into place and The Paris Diversion began to take shape on scribbled notes while trudging the streets of the French capital.

The result is a stunning, fast-paced adventure with the same Pavone hallmarks of incisive, elegant writing, fast-paced action, intelligent plotting, and flashes of the dark humour that have leavened all his novels and made them such a reading delight.

Nothing is what it seems in this enthralling story which spans just twelve hours of one momentous day in Paris and is full of contemporary political issues, social and domestic observations, and more twists and turns than the River Seine.

Kate Moore – an American expat mother of two boys and a former CIA agent now working undercover for a covert US intelligence organisation – is trying to live the quiet life in the French capital.

On this particular morning, she drops off her two boys at the international school as the cafes and streets of Paris start to come alive. It seems to be a normal day in St-Germain-des-Prés until the blare of police sirens fill the air and Kate knows instinctively that ‘something is very wrong.’

Her husband Dexter, a ‘self-employed investor’ with a propensity for dodgy deals, is distracted and anxious. He has mounting financial problems and knows he has far too much riding on the outcome of today’s transactions.

Across the Seine, company boss Hunter Forsyth stands on the balcony of his penthouse apartment and contemplates that today is the day he finally becomes a billionaire.

But first he must work out why his paid police escort has just departed and why his mobile phone service has mysteriously cut out. Hunter has some very important calls to make, and not all of them technically legal.

Meanwhile, on the nearby Rue de Rivoli, Mahmoud Khalid, wearing a body vest packed with deadly bricks of Semtex and a detonator, climbs out of an electrician’s van and elbows his way into the crowded courtyard of the world-famous Louvre.

He sets down his metal briefcase, and removes his windbreaker. That’s when people start to scream…

With its superior plotting, nailbiting tension and a full-throttle espionage mystery, The Paris Diversion has the intensity and atmosphere of a John le Carré novel with an intriguing female lead and her mixed bag assortment of secret operatives in what becomes a desperate fight for life.

Pavone plays with both our nerves and perceptions as the action unfolds through a multi viewpoint narrative and a plot riddled with red herrings, some visceral action scenes and a sense of danger that threatens to explode at any second.

This is an action adventure rooted in our times… as much a meditation on contemporary issues as a spy thriller with a propulsive plot.

The almost permanent military presence in Paris – a ‘new normal’ – is not something to be relished. ‘This is how a police state happens, isn’t it?’ ponders Kate. ‘An emergency that never subsides… so the far-right steps in and promises to solve it all.’

Heart-pounding, gut-wrenching and with a denouement that ties together the mystery with exceptional mastery, this is a thriller to impress… and to relish.

(Faber & Faber, hardback, £14.99)