Mystery set in NORTH AMERICA
A global thriller – plus interview with best selling author, Chris Pavone
1st March 2016
The Travelers by Chris Pavone – a global thriller.
First our review of the book, and then our interview with Chris.
The Travelers is real page turner, moving rapidly from New York, to Argentina, to Paris, to Barcelona, to Dublin, to Capri, to Stockholm, to Edinburgh, to Iceland – reminds me a little of a James Bond movie!
Travelers is a New York City based global travel magazine, with bureaux or stringers in most countries of the world. Malcolm Somers, the editor, presides over the empire… Will Rhodes is a leading travel journalist, a friend of Malcolm’s who also works for the magazine. Will is married to Chloe.
Will is on assignment in Mendoza, Argentina when he is seduced, and then blackmailed by Elle, an American pretending to be an Australian. She and her partner have filmed his indiscretion and threaten to show the film to Chloe – unless Will agrees to work for the CIA, and use his cover as a travel journalist to spy on those of interest to the CIA that he meets in his job. He says he will. But are the people he is to spy on the real target? Is he actually working for the CIA? Could Travelers magazine itself be at the heart of the story?
The plot and intrigue is fast moving – from an oligarch’s yacht in the Mediterranean via Dublin, Edinburgh, Paris, and Barcelona to a final dramatic climax on a cliff top in Iceland – with side scenarios along the way in Capri and Stockholm. Nothing is as it seems and no one is who they appear to be. The climax features (amongst others) Will, Malcolm, and Chloe – but how did they all get to be there?
Chris writes in an extremely readable style – and you can just flow along with the book as it takes you from location to location. In TripFiction terms we don’t really spend enough time in any one place to become that familiar with it, but each location is described pretty authentically. Ideal reading for a globe trotter dropping in on various destinations! Bits of the plot may go over you as you read (they did for me…), but all becomes clear in the end.
The Travelers is Chris’ third book. The first two, The Expats and The Accident, both featured in the New York Times and Sunday Times best sellers lists. I confidently predict that The Travelers will do the same. It is a great read.
Tony for the TripFiction team
Now over to our interview with Chris…TF: The Travelers is a fast paced, action packed thriller that travels the globe. The locations in which a book is set are TripFiction’s reason for being… and the descriptions of yours all ring pretty true. How did you achieve this? Are they all places with which you are familiar – or did you research them in other ways?
CP: I’ve visited everywhere I’ve written about in all three of my novels, or close to it: I haven’t set foot on Capri in nearly three decades, so that memory is a bit hazy; and I’ve never been to Mendoza, where the book begins. I did spend two weeks on family holiday in Argentina, but our excursion to the Pampas was somewhere so remote and so pointless that it wouldn’t make any sense for multiple travel writers to converge there, which is what the plot required. Argentina’s wine region made a lot more sense than our isolated estancia, but for unsurprising reasons this wasn’t especially where I wanted to drag the kids.
TF: The Travelers revolves around an intricate and complex plot. To what extent did you plan the book in detail before you started writing? Or did you just sketch out the bare bones, and then let the detail ‘write itself’ as you went along?
CP: Both! When I started the project, I knew one of the main plot twists, but I had only a vague sense of the action. Then I started sketching characters and writing text without a very clear vision of what was going to happen between the opening and the final reveal. After muddling through awhile, other twists and complications and action sequences began to present themselves, so I stopped writing and set to work on a detailed outline. I then went back to the beginning and revised based on this outline. As I moved forward, I came up with new tangents and twists and characters, even a new ending (in fact, more than one; a few needed to be discarded). So I revised this outline, over and over . . .
God, I wish it were a more straightforward process.
TF: With Will, Chloe, Malcolm, Gabriella, and Elle you have created five strong characters – all flawed in certain ways, but all very focused on what they need to do to survive. Are they all from your imagination – or are any based (even loosely) on real life people you have encountered?
CP: No, not really. One of my closest friends was for a long time a travel writer, and it was this guy’s enviable-looking peregrinations that gave me the idea that a travel writer could become a spy. But the truth is that all my major characters are really just different versions of me. They think the types of thoughts I think, they make the types of decisions I can see myself making, they worry about the same sorts of things I worry about. They may not have the same body parts or ethnic composition or life experiences, but nevertheless they’re more me than they are anyone else in the real world.
TF: There is a debate in the UK to the extent to which it is necessary to ‘translate’ a US book into British English. Some argue that the Americanisation of British English is just another example of globalisation – and that we shouldn’t get hung up about it. Others find it less than desirable… A question brought, I guess, into sharper relief than usual by the title itself of the book. The Travelers would be The Travellers in British English. If you can envisage yourself as a Brit, where do you think you would stand in this debate?
CP: This question of whether to double-l or not to double-l was debated no small amount at my UK publisher’s office. Ultimately, I think the reasoning for keeping the American spelling is that the book title The Travelers refers mainly (or at least most obviously) to the magazine where many of the characters work, which is an American business and would obviously be spelled the American way; it’s also an American book, written by an American author. So the single-l has logic on its side, as well as practical simplicity—it’s a lot easier, logistically, to make a book without needing to change spellings from the American version into the British.
On the other hand: I do think the homogenization that’s inherent in so-called globalization is lamentable. And if I were British, I’d certainly hope that my American publisher would allow me to use all the double-l’s and s’s that I wanted.
TF: On a slightly similar cultural note, the cover of the Faber & Faber UK edition of The Travelers is quite different to the US edition – and, to my mind, much more appropriate for the UK market. To what extent do you, as the author, get involved in such discussions – or are you largely happy to leave them to the publisher and the designers?
CP: I was a book editor for a long time, and I still remember what it was like to have authors who didn’t know what they were talking about, screaming at me on the telephone about something. So although I wouldn’t characterize myself as happy about staying out of the way, I do make a concerted effort to shut up about many matters. This is especially true for the covers of editions in cultures that I don’t inhabit. Book covers are essentially advertisements that need to serve as both consumer-facing and industry marketing; they’re the most expensive ad that a publisher will produce for many books, criticized and analyzed to death within the publisher’s meeting rooms and sales conferences. This is very culture-specific.
TF: The Expats (your first book) is being developed for film. Are there any plans for The Travelers to follow suit? I think it would make a fantastic movie.
CP: I don’t understand how anyone earns a living in the film business. So much money seems to change hands, and so many wheels spin for so long for so many projects that never end up getting made. After four years in development, I still don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to sit in a theater and watch The Expats’ film, but the rights are owned by CBS Films, and there are producers attached and a screenplay has been written, so progress is notable if not necessarily speedy. The Travelers, on the other hand, has just been optioned by DreamWorks, the very beginning of the process. This is hugely exciting! But I’m not going to hold my breath.
TF: How do you organise your writing day? Do you have fixed times at which you are at your most productive?
CP: Each morning I go I to a members club that I joined long ago for the express purpose of having a place to work that wasn’t home; at home I’ll do nearly anything—cook supper, fold laundry, pay bills, paint the dining room walls—instead of write. I usually arrive to the club and start writing at 8:00 a.m., and I finish when I get hungry. Then I’m free to spend the afternoon cooking supper and folding laundry and paying bills. But as a rule I put off the wall painting until between drafts, when I’m anxiously waiting for editorial feedback from my agent or editor. I find brushwork on wood trim to be especially soothing.
TF: What, if you can tell us, are you now working on – and will locale be important?
CF: My currently untitled fourth novel is going to focus not only on some different places but also on a different time. This is my favorite stage of writing, when I’ve gotten underway recently enough that it still feels fresh, but not so recently that I’m still groping around in the dark. Every writing day is about invention, which is the fun part, the part that doesn’t feel at all like work.
A big thank you to Chris for answering all our questions so eloquently!
The Travelers by Chris Pavone is out now (Faber & Faber, £12.99)