Unless things go extremely badly or extraordinarily well, I’m halfway through my working life. I’ve spent nearly all of it in New York in the publishing business, mostly as a book editor. That is, except for the year when I did nothing for a living, and instead was an expat trailing spouse in Luxembourg, taking care of the children and our household, studying French and playing tennis and perfecting my Schnitzel recipe.
After a year of this, I returned to working in publishing, albeit in a very different capacity: I started writing a novel called The Expats. Before I finished, we moved back to New York, to our old life in which social and business relationships overlap, as they do for many people. My wife has also spent her career in books, and many of our friends are editors or literary agents or authors. Our ten-year-old twins are well acquainted with blurbs and bound galleys, sales conferences and book festivals, the undeniable allure of metallic ink on an embossed dust jacket.
The Expats was published in 2012. When it was time for me to write my second novel, I realized that I wanted to set the new book in the publishing business. I’d enjoyed that part of my experience with The Expats—writing about an uncommon world that I’d inhabited. And although book publishing doesn’t at first glance seem like a natural setting for a thriller, neither did the experience of being an expat trailing spouse—studying French and playing tennis and cooking Schnitzel.
But that milieu also offered tremendous opportunities for secrets and crimes, which are plot elements that I added to a story that was fundamentally about marriage—about intimacy and honesty and the limits to both; about the things we choose to see in each other, and the things we choose not to see.
The thriller and espionage aspects of The Expats are echoed in the marriage aspects: leaving behind your career to move to a foreign land is analogous to leaving behind the workplace to inhabit the foreign territory of being home with little children; doubting an handler is akin to doubting a spouse. Alienation is alienation, no matter the cause; mistrust is mistrust.
I took the same approach with The Accident: using real-world settings and experiences as the foundation for a not-quite-real-world story. On the surface, the book is a somewhat frantic thriller that takes place over the course of a single day, when a handful of book-publishing characters are suddenly seized by the life-threatening grasp of a ruthless media mogul and a career espionage agent.
But at heart, The Accident is a book about ambition, about the compromises we make on the path from the ideal people we once wanted to be to the real people we have actually become. It’s a book about idealism and corruption, about loyalty and betrayal—not only of other people, but of ourselves.
Or at least that’s what I hope the book is about. Because a story about a bunch of book-publishing people is just my life, which I have to admit would not in good conscience be shelved in the thriller section.
The Accident by Chris Pavone is out now in hardback, £12.99 (Faber & Faber)