Twin Tragedies Form Basis for
Gripping Pavone Thriller
By Rick Pullen
His wife Madeline had already left for work and New York Times bestselling author Chris Pavone was running late. He was petting the couple’s dog goodbye when something caught his eye outside the giant wall-size window of their lower Manhattan loft.
Four blocks away, the side of the World Trade Center exploded.
“I saw horrific things,” Pavone says. “There was a moment when the first building came tumbling down…it wasn’t clear what was happening. It was then clear the building was collapsing. Through my window, I thought, shit, it’s going to fall on me. I grabbed the dog and ran to the bathroom. I closed the door—the whole building shook and there was the sound of glass shattering.”
When he emerged, the apartment was dark. A cloud of dust had enveloped the neighborhood. The shattering glass? A picture had fallen off the wall from the reverberation.
Outside his window was black—he couldn’t see anything. And then slowly, the other side of the street began to emerge. A police officer later told him he needed to leave the neighborhood.
Outside, the sidewalk, the street, everything, was covered by a layer of concrete dust and ash. “It was like snow,” he says.
With his dog in tow, he and tens of thousands of fellow islanders trudged through the thickening powder covering lower Manhattan. He crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, to a relative’s. He managed to meet up with his wife the next day, and they began what would become a long stay with relatives.
“It was heart wrenching to be near something so horrible…it was still an ongoing terrorist event,” he says.
For the displaced couple, the tragedy didn’t end that day, but went on for a month.
When they finally could return, their street was behind a perimeter fence patrolled by heavily armed National Guardsmen. Many neighborhood streets ended in massive piles of smoldering rubble. The area, says Pavone, “resembled a war zone.”
Some of the gruesomeness of the experience is difficult for Pavone to verbalize, while the enormity of the event never left him. As a writer, he wanted to put something on paper to express those feelings, but he felt guilt and refused to exploit the tragedy. It wasn’t until 15 years later, when he was visiting Paris alone on a writing vacation—after two bestselling thrillers were already history and a third was on the way—that it all came together and he knew what he could do with his experience.
Long before he ever wrote his first novel, he’d wanted to write stories about Paris and terrorism, but it wasn’t until his first week in Paris in 2016 that he realized they would meld into the same story. He traveled the city “taking notes on every street corner.” That first week, he says, was magical. “It was the most productive week I’ve ever had.”
“I like books that immerse you in the miasma of fear,” he says. “I wanted to do that. I really wanted to write another book about Kate Moore.”
What emerged from his trip is this month’s release THE PARIS DIVERSION—Pavone’s sequel to The Expats. It’s a book about a day in the life of Kate Moore and her husband, Dexter, as the city convulses with yet another terrorist attack. Or is it? As with every Chris Pavone novel, nothing is quite what it appears.
“The idea of a massive terrorist attack—that was something I wanted to do before I knew I wanted to write thrillers,” he says.
In THE PARIS DIVERSION, Pavone manages to summon all of the emotions of 9/11 in describing what is gripping Paris on this unusual day. He shows the irony of residents fleeing in fear as word of the ongoing crisis slowly seeps into the seams of the city, while some threads continue to go about their daily routines completely clueless.
“I wanted to write about the emotions of the city in general,” he says. And he slowly drips out how a seemingly unrelated attack is tied so closely to Kate and Dexter.
All the while, he exposes his readers to Kate’s frustrations and doubts about her marriage, her job, and even the grind of being a mom. Kate is all too human, and yet still has the grit to face a massive crisis in the making.
Pavone tells his story from several points of view, although he made sure at least half of the book is from Kate’s. His technique of dashing from scene to scene not only keeps the pace of the book moving quickly, but also enables him to drop in bits of backstory along the way.
And a big plot, it is. The attack eventually engulfs the entire city and Kate is darting about not only trying to solve the mystery of the attack, but to save her own family.
The highlight of every Pavone novel is his authoritative voice. He excels at whispering in your ear and showing you just how the real world works. Pavone labors for months on his writing for that authenticity. He acknowledges he puts in the effort on research, but it’s really his eye for detail that makes his latest big event novel seem not only plausible, but real.
“I think I am authentic, but I don’t think it’s facts about the world,” he says. “I think it’s about facts of character.”
One concern, since he’d not written a sequel before, was trying to figure out just how much backstory from his first novel to include. He sent repeated drafts to beta readers and made several revisions until he thought he got it right.
“I care about good writing and read a lot of good writing,” he says. Editing books helped. “Those years of being careful about other people’s language made me careful about my own.”
The publishing business is replete with chance encounters and life events that change the direction of a writer’s life. Pavone’s writing has been affected by two major crises—his experience on that infamous day in lower Manhattan, and his midlife crisis struggling for direction. They both helped him to hunker down with his laptop and transform some dark, horrific emotions into a fast-paced, character-driven thriller.
And like his other novels, THE PARIS DIVERSION appears destined for the bestseller list.
Photo credit (homepage): Sam McIntosh