Book review: ‘The Accident’ by Chris Pavone

Posted Sunday, Mar. 16, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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The Accident

by Chris Pavone

Crown, $26

* * * * * 

Audiobook: Random House Audio, $40; narrated by actress Mozhan Marnò.

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Isabel Reed, a New York literary agent, has just read an anonymous manuscript that has shaken her to the core. She ponders what to do. Try to get it published “quickly and quietly to protect herself”? That way “she can’t be arrested — or killed — in front of the whole world. Can she?”

And so begins Chris Pavone’s much anticipated second thriller, The Accident, a fast-paced, dangerous ride through, of all things, the mainstream publishing world. Pavone, a former book editor whose first novel, The Expats, won the coveted Edgar Award, delivers a page-turning plot that takes readers from New York City office buildings and high-style parties in L.A. and beach houses in the Hamptons to small, squirrely apartments in Copenhagen and a hideaway in Switzerland.

Pavone carefully crafts his story, giving readers only small glimpses into scenes that gradually start to reveal the bigger picture that explains Reed’s initial dramatic reaction. An omniscient narrator takes us from the mysterious author, to a hard-nosed and potentially devious CIA operative, to a struggling publisher and editor and publicist, who suddenly find themselves in danger, too. Along the way, various characters read pages from the manuscript and Pavone shares those pages, giving the reader further insight into its terrible secrets and clues about who might be involved and to what extent.

Suspense gradually builds as those who read the manuscript find themselves in life-threatening situations, some of which end, well, poorly. It’s clear that someone doesn’t want this book published, at all costs. And even when it becomes obvious who that might be, it’s still unclear who is working for them and how.

Pavone’s deep knowledge of the publishing world gives the narrative a satisfying heft. The vast changes in the industry that began in the recession are reflected in the desperation of his characters to have a part in the publication of that rare money-making blockbuster of a book — even if that success equation involves high personal risk.

Reed is a strong, smart central character with secrets of her own that gradually unfold, providing the reader some satisfying ah-ha moments of discovery, even if they are somewhat mitigated by the sadnesses of her past. As the plot twists and turns, her emotional and sometimes unexpected connections to the various characters (who have their own secrets) give the book a welcome level of depth that isn’t often found in these sorts of breakneck thrillers.

This is also a more literary book than it needs to be, and Pavone’s descriptive writing helps readers immerse themselves in scenes. For example, when Reed, alone in her apartment, finishes her initial read of the manuscript, she heads for the shower: “From the other room, she can hear the irrelevant prattle of the so-called news, the piddling dramas of box-office grosses, petty marital indiscretions, celebrity substance abuse. Steam recolonizes the mirror, and she watches big thick drops of condensation streak down from the top beveled edge of the glass, cutting narrow paths of clarity through the fog, thin clear lines in which she can glimpse her reflection.”

I found myself diverted by passages like this, lingering over word choices and images that asked me to pause and enjoy the ride.

And enjoy it I did, as that intricate plot kept propelling me forward, twisting and turning right up to its final, ultimately satisfying conclusion.

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