Thriller author Chris Pavone and "Beginning with Truth"

Chris Schluep on June 06, 2019

Paris.jpgIdeas in novels often originate from events in a writer's own life. In the case of author Chris Pavone, one of the events that informed his new novel The Paris Diversion was shared and experienced by the whole nation, even the world--although Pavone had a very personal and close-up view to it.

The Paris Diversion is a thriller with terrorism at its core. What causes it? How do we respond? And how does it alter our view of the world around us? It's a tricky thing, as much about perception as reality. Pavone's latest novel reintroduces characters from his first book, The Expats, and places them not in New York but in Paris. Because it's a world-wide thing now. The new normal.

One note: While it is helpful to have read The Expats before reading The Paris Diversion, it is not essential. You can enjoy the book either way.

Read Chris Pavone's own words about how world events shaped his fast-paced thriller:

Beginning with Truth

by Chris Pavone

Here’s the truth: on September 11th, 2001, I woke up late, groggy from a decongestant I’d taken the night before. I was aiming to leave for the office by a quarter of nine, but I was one minute late. So it was 8:46 when I was patting our dog goodbye when off to the side something fast and close flew by with a loud scream that sounded exactly like a cartoon missile.

I grew up in New York City in the 1970s. The Twin Towers were built when I was a little kid—the King Kong remake in a bankrupt crime-ridden city whose chief achievement of the decade was the World Trade Center, towers that came to define the city, the tallest building in the world and there were two of them, at turns reviled and celebrated, just like New York itself.

Now there was a hole in one of them. And it was just a few blocks from our loft, an apartment whose chief assets—the only assets, really—were gigantic windows dominated by those massive towers. I had an up-close view when the second plane hit, and for a split-second the fireball looked like it was never going to stop expanding, it would engulf me, and I thought briefly that I might die. The same view to things falling off the tops of the buildings, which I realized weren’t things, and they weren’t falling; they were people, jumping. The same view when the first tower fell, a massive cloud of debris hurtling toward me at tremendous speed, who knew what was going to come crashing through the window, crushing me, crushing my whole building.

No one knew anything, not really. Yes, we were being attacked. Was it over? Or was this just the beginning of an invasion, a war, the end of the world? We lived across the street from City Hall, a few blocks from the courthouses, the municipal building, the federal building, the New York Stock Exchange and Wall Street, every level of government and finance, bridges and tunnels and skyscrapers and millions and millions of people: the highest-value target in the entire world. I didn’t want to go out there.

But I did, I found a policeman, asked him what I should do. Everything was covered in ash; pieces of World Trade Center office paper were fluttering from the sky. He told me to evacuate while the choice was still mine. The neighborhood was going to be shut down—gas, water, electricity all turned off, everyone ordered to leave.

So that’s what I did: packed an overnight bag, and our dog Charlie Brown and I walked through the ash, through City Hall Park, up and over the Brooklyn Bridge, from which I couldn’t stop staring over my shoulder, to the spot where for my whole life there’d been Twin Towers, and now there were just giant plumes of smoke.

I wouldn’t return to that apartment for weeks. The neighborhood had indeed been evacuated, then penned into 12,000 feet of newly erected perimeter fencing with armed checkpoints, patrolled by National Guardsmen in fatigues and helmets and assault rifles, the elementary school repurposed as staging area for the rescue effort that never rescued a single person. A cop accompanied us through the rainy streets of the Frozen Zone, past the massive piles of burning stinking rubble for a quick visit to check on our home, which he entered before us, recon to make sure there was nothing horrible in there. I’d heard that people had found body parts.

My wife and dog and I had moved in with relatives uptown, we’d done raids on Duane Reade and Banana Republic for toiletries and clothing, then we’d gone back to work; life resumed, normal-ish. My Midtown office building was the target of repeated bomb threats, and every few days we needed to evacuate. But no bomb ever detonated, and eventually we stopped believing, and we stopped leaving, even as every loud noise outside—every heavy truck rumbling by, car backfiring, kid screaming—could have been it, the next attack, just like the Anthrax being delivered to New York media companies. I worked at a New York media company.

Everyone knew it was coming, sooner or later. Maybe it was right now: the next attack.

In mid-October we moved home to the Frozen Zone, to the constant sounds of earth-movers and the blare of stadium lights and the sickening stench of the acrid burning rubble that wasn’t extinguished until mid-December, after one hundred days—one hundred—of smoldering. There were soldiers everywhere, assault weapons, armor.

We lived in a war zone. And it looked permanent, this is how we now live, in a scary place, waiting for whatever’s the next massive attack. It never came.

# # #

This too is true: Paris in 2016 felt exactly the same. I touched down just days after the Bastille Day carnage in Nice, the year after the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the November attacks, more than two hundred killed and a nearly thousand injured in France from terrorism. There were soldiers everywhere, assault rifles, helmets, not just in the places where you’d expect them—the presidential palace, the Eiffel Tower—but anywhere, patrolling quiet residential streets, in front of cafés, shops, primary schools. When a herd of police cars zoomed by, people stopped what they were doing to watch. Because maybe now was when the next attack was happening. This was scary place, waiting for whatever’s next.

This is terrorism: not just the event itself—the explosions and bullets, the injuries and deaths. Terrorism is long-term, it’s maybe permanent, it establishes an expectation of more horror, forever. Terrorism forces us to see the world through a lens of fear, it distorts our perceptions, it sets us up to see more of it. And to be wrong.

# # #

This also is true: I’d long wanted to write a novel that used my experiences of 9/11, which happened years before I started writing. But I didn’t want to write the expected terrorism novel, with the expected villains and heroes, the expected attack. As I walked around Paris, I realized that I wanted to write a different sort of terrorism novel, one that uses our expectations—or presumptions—to examine how we live, how we relate to one another, to the dangerous world around us. A novel that opens with an angry North African man walking into the courtyard of the Louvre, wearing a suicide vest. We all know what’s going on here, don’t we? We all know what’s going to happen.

We’re wrong.

The Paris Diversion is a faced-paced international thriller featuring a covert CIA substation and complex financial crimes and secret identities, a high-stakes plot with a high-flying CEO and high-speed chases, a complex cast of duplicitous characters and a huge sum of stolen cash—that is, it’s a novel packed with things that aren’t true, not remotely. But the book is also this: a made-up story based on the formative experience of my real life, beginning with truth.

-- by Chris Pavone

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