Edgar winner Chris Pavone has built a career on involving stories about people with deep secrets. Not so much the family secrets that are de rigueur in many thrillers — though that often enters into his novels — but more on secrets masked by a job requiring travel or relocating to another country. After all, who really knows what a financial security expert does, which was the plot of Pavone’s award-winning debut “The Expats,” or, in the case of the gripping “The Travelers,” a jet-setting travel writer.
Will Rhodes roams the world writing articles for Travelers magazine, a glossy publication based in New York where Will lives with his wife, Chloe, who also freelances for the same periodical. Travelers gives its writers an unlimited budget and the editor doesn’t seem to care if the same story about France is rewritten just a little bit differently each month. Readers love France, he reasons. No one at Travelers ever talks about the much-loved editor who just disappeared one night.
But Will is at a crossroads. He is bored with his assignments “in countries not his own, with people he doesn’t know.” He is filled with regrets over just about everything and fearful that nothing in his life will be perfect, making “this relentless pursuit of perfection his career.” He’d prefer to do nothing than make a decision. His inertia even prevents him from making the smallest decision about renovating his New York City townhouse — he’d rather live with doorless rooms and sinks without faucets. “He’d rather have nothing than the wrong thing.”
He falls into what he thinks will be a quick affair with Elle Hardwick, an Australian freelance wine writer who keeps showing up at each spot Will has chosen to write about. But Elle has other ideas and uses the affair as blackmail to pull Will into a series of dangerous undercover assignments that would be another day at the office for James Bond. Will may not be the only one in the family to become a quasi-spy. Freelance assignments also give Chloe a good cover for her secret life.
“The Travelers” moves at a brisk pace as Pavone ratchets up the action-packed suspense and infuses his plot with a rich view of far-flung exotic locales. Although Pavone never delves into his characters’ souls, his characters’ lives and hidden agendas are believable.