For a long time, I’ve wondered about how to characterize the difference between a spy novel and and a spy thriller. After reading a review copy of Chris Pavone’s The Travelers, I think I can now express it precisely. Both have secret agents, intelligence agencies, dead drops, tradecraft, double-crosses and other staples of the genre.
It’s all about the plausibility of the events. In a Le Carré novel, everything is completely plausible. No James Bond unrealistic derring-do. No jumping out of airplanes without a parachute. No complete civilians discovering crazy secrets and getting pursued by mysterious strangers. Just real people betraying something or someone, or trying not to.
Which puts Chris Pavone’s thoroughly enjoyable The Travelers squarely in the Spy Thriller camp. It has many elements you’d find in Le Carre — skepticism about the nature and motives of Intelligence agencies, a morally grey world view where most everyone is a bad guy of some sort. But most of the book is an adventure, a fun but not very plausible one.
The Travelers’ is Pavone’s third novel, after The Expats and The Accident. He specializes in “normal” people (who often turn out to be not that normal), getting caught up in intrigues. Will Rhodes is a not-very-sympathetic character — a newly married travel writer with a wandering eye and questionable morals. He’s married to Chloe and working for Travelers magazine, with operations around the world and activities that might be more than just writing articles….and Chloe might not be who she seems either…before long Will’s made some bad choices, and events hurtle him from New York to Paris to cabins in the forest of Iceland to Ireland to Yachts in the Mediterranean to …well the book is so peripatetic that the section headers are location names.
If you’re looking for a great thriller, The Travelers will keep you entertained for hours. If you’re looking for deep insights into the human condition, you might want to head for Le Carré or Graham Greene.
I received a free copy of The Travelers through LibraryThing’s wonderful Early Reviewers program.