Accompanying her new husband on a business trip to Portugal, a woman named Ariel Pryce wakes up alone in their hotel room. She’s positive that something bad has happened to him—but since he has only been gone a few hours, neither the Lisbon police nor the U.S. embassy will take her seriously.
Has he been kidnapped, or worse? And how well does his wife really know him? It’s up to Ariel—a small-town bookseller who’s seemingly unprepared for international intrigue—to figure it out, even if it means putting herself in harm’s way.
That’s the jumping-off point for Two Nights in Lisbon, the latest thriller by Chris Pavone ’89, a bestselling author whose previous outings have garnered top awards in mystery fiction. And as Pavone’s fans will suspect before they even crack open the cover, there’s much more to Ariel than meets the eye.
Her fraught, twisty journey to rescue her husband will not only awaken her memories of past trauma, but threaten powerful men at the highest echelons of U.S. government.
“I defy anyone to read the first twenty pages of this breakneck novel, then try to put it down for five minutes,” superstar author John Grisham says in a blurb.
“It can’t be done. The plot is too devious; the pace is too gripping; and the characters are seldom who they are supposed to be. This is smart suspense at its very best.”
A government major on the Hill, Pavone spent two decades as a book editor before segueing to the other side of the publishing industry.
The inspiration for his 2012 debut novel, The Expats—which won the coveted Edgar and Anthony awards and made the New York Times bestseller list—sprang from Pavone’s experience as a trailing spouse in Luxembourg, where his family (then including 4-year-old twins) moved for his wife’s job.
“I was living in a country where I had no friends or support system, and didn’t know how to do anything—throw out the garbage, park the car, buy appliances,” he recalls.
“It was disorienting and alienating, and I decided to write about that. But it was a whiny, empty book in which somebody like me was complaining, ‘Life is hard, boo-hoo’—and I realized that nobody would want to read it. So I put it aside.”
It eventually struck Pavone that Luxembourg was filled with fellow expatriates, many in fields—like diplomacy and high finance—that offer rich fodder for an international thriller.
His heroine in The Expats appears to be a typical American wife and mother living abroad and enjoying the pleasures of Europe—but she has a clandestine past that even her husband may not suspect.
The New York Times Book Review calls the novel “smartly executed” and “thoroughly captivating,” raving: “Pavone is full of sharp insights into the parallels between political espionage and marital duplicity.”
Pavone followed The Expats with The Accident, The Travelers, and The Paris Diversion. Like Two Nights in Lisbon, they feature his signature elements: complex plotting, brisk pacing, strong female characters, and key details parsed out in tantalizingly small doses.
“There’s the challenge of holding back information about the protagonist, without being coy or insulting about it,” Pavone observes. “It’s something I struggle with—how to be inside a character’s head, withholding something but not lying to the reader.”
Will Pavone’s thrillers—which seem ripe for adaptation—ever be translated to film or TV? It’s a question that fans ask him frequently.
As he explains: since some have overlapping characters, he could only sell the rights to two, The Expats and The Travelers. Both have been in development for years, with the rights currently held by separate streaming services (Paramount+ and Netflix).
“I don’t hold my breath,” he says with a laugh. “But I hold out hope that one day, I’ll sit somewhere and look at some type of screen, and one of them will be on it.”