Book publishing is a dog-eat-dog world these days as the once-comfortable industry butts heads with shorter attention spans, shrinking discretionary income and cheaper-than-hardcover e-books.
So I'd bet my e-reader that the people who work in New York's publishing houses stayed up late reading advance copies of Chris Pavone's "The Accident." His smart and stylish sophomore novel dissects publishing's evolving business model and its workaday culture in a manner that only someone who walked its halls can do.
This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.
Pavone worked in publishing for two decades before the debut of "The Expats," his first novel, in 2012. It was a globe-spanning spy thriller about Kate Moore, an ex-CIA assassin whose life goes from boring to action-packed when she moves to Luxembourg with her husband and kids. The book received more good than bad reviews, won an Edgar Award, climbed best-seller lists and was scooped up by Hollywood for a screen adaptation now in development.
So it's no accident that Pavone has a pretty good idea of the kind of book that would appeal to the typical — if there is one — book-buying reader. We're talking about the blockbuster that any literary agent, book editor or publishing house would kill to get their hands on, the kind of book that one of "The Accident's" characters, Camilla Glyndon-Browning, a rabidly aggressive sub-rights director, describes as "the only type of book that always seems to work: the one that one day, all of a sudden, everyone is talking about."
In "The Accident," however, people are willing to kill to keep a book from being published, and that book is, ironically, entitled "The Accident." Its author: Anonymous.
Though it's set in the world of book publishing, it's "The Accident's" plot as much as its setting that gives the narrative propulsion and punch. The manuscript in question details a tragic death, hushed up for decades, whose exposure could spark an international scandal.
Like "The Expats," "The Accident" is a locale-hopping, thrill-a-minute novel that takes readers from America's East and West Coasts across the Atlantic to Zurich and Copenhagen. And in "The Accident," the oftentimes cutthroat world of book publishing takes a literal turn with a garroting, bullets to the head and vehicular homicide. The people who want "The Accident" manuscript wiped off the face of the earth are not messing around. If you liked the Hollywood-like thrills of "The Expats," you'll love the even more fast-paced "The Accident," although industry insiders may begrudge the fact that their lives have never been this exciting.
Among the stars of Pavone's new thriller is Isabel Reed, a middle-aged literary agent perpetually on the prowl for the book that will jump-start her career and move her into the future, away from a nightmarish event in the past that forever haunts her. The manuscript for "The Accident" lands on her desk, and she instinctively knows this book could be her saving grace because its explosive revelations could bring down Charlie Wolfe, the head of Wolfe Worldwide Media.
Wolfe isn't a nice guy, and "The Accident" within Pavone's "The Accident" exposes a deadly car accident that occurred during Wolfe's college years. It's just one atrocity among many detailed in the book that could destroy Wolfe's empire and undermine the careers of various American politicos and higher-ups in the CIA as well.
Shady CIA operative Hayden Gray, who played a minor role in "The Expats," is given the task of retrieving and destroying the manuscript and finding and killing its author and anyone else who knows about it. If at this point, you are squirming as you're turning pages, it's because Pavone has got you where he wants you, tumbling headfirst into a world of car chases, gunfire, phone tapping, computer hacking, death threats and multiple twists and unforeseen entanglements at every turn.
Richly stylized characters join Reed in this publishing/murder romp. There are the ladder-climbing hopefuls and ingénues, including Isabel's assistant Alexis, who is one of the first people to get in the way of Hayden's mop-up. There's also Jeffrey Fielder, a lonely and depressed editor whose once-starry climb to the top of his field has turned into a fast slide toward burnout and failure. There's Bradford McNally, the head of a failing publishing house, who wants and needs to publish a book like "The Accident." And, of course, there's the mysterious author who fakes his death, alters his physical appearance and retreats to various European hidey holes in an effort to stay one step ahead of Wolfe's deadly operatives.
Except for a few awkward transitions from past to present and from plot strand to plot strand, "The Accident" never stumbles as it confidently and most entertainingly barrels forward toward shocking revelations and a bombshell of a finish.
And if you miss "The Expats" character Kate, you're in for a treat. Pavone, always mindful of what makes a novel compelling as well as fun, gives her a cameo that has her doing what she loves best — living the life of a mommy/action hero.
Carol Memmott's reviews appear in People and the Washington Post.
By Chris Pavone, Crown, 385 pages, $26Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun