Intricate, believable and gripping

Paul O’Connor is a relatively new convert to the ranks of fans  who read thrillers involving crime and politics, and he can be a tough reader to impress. This novel impressed him.

Reviewed by Paul T. O’Connor

TWO NIGHTS IN LISBON. By Chris Pavone. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. Hardcover. 433 pages. $28.

John Wright hadn’t mentioned leaving so early this morning. He hadn’t left a note. He is here for business, but his meetings are later in the day. She knows that.

 She asks hotel staff about him, visits the police and the American embassy. Hotel staff say they haven’t seen him; the police and embassy staff suffer through her frenzy and say it is too early to be concerned. He’s probably out for a run.

In his cover blurb, fellow author John Grisham says he defies anyone to begin reading this book and put it down within the first 20 pages.

 I put it down at page 16. To this point, it was totally unoriginal. Too many books, movies and TV shows are based on someone reporting a missing person and being told, “Come back in 24 hours if he or she hasn’t come home.”

 But when the library waiting list is as long as it is for this book, I figured somehow it would get better. It did, in a big way

 An intricate crime and politics thriller follows those first few pages, with clues scattered liberally throughout.

 The police ask questions. The embassy staff ask questions. Ariel is increasingly frustrated because she just wants her husband back. For God’s sake, they’ve only been married three months, have only known each other a year, but how is that relevant to the Lisbon police, who speak English well but often in phrases amusingly translated directly from Portuguese.

 What is Ariel’s history? How about John’s? Why, exactly are they here in Lisbon? Why did she accompany her husband on a business trip, and why doesn’t she know the name of the company with which he is working? Why is his sister in Morocco?

 She can answer some questions, is stumped by others, admits to being a ditz about a few and expresses total surprise that the detectives and embassy staff know things about John that she didn’t.

 Ariel also can’t understand the embassy staff’s suspicions of her, their lack of concern for her husband.

All the pieces fit together. The answers will eventually lead us to the last chapter. But we must remember Chekov’s maxim: If there’s a shotgun hanging over the fireplace, someone had better use it somewhere along the line – or something like that. In this case, there are plenty of clues above the fireplace, so to speak.

As a relatively new fan of such books, I’ve been amazed at how the authors envision and pull together such complex stories, their twists and turns, and still keep us believing it’s all plausible. My curse is that I give up on a story as soon as I see where it becomes implausible, where I don’t buy the characters or I can’t believe that the Mission Impossible guy can, with only his fingertips, hold onto a train going 200 kph.

 With Two Nights in Lisbon, the characters are fictionally believable, and each little detail in the unfolding scenario seems plausible because it is based on other plausible little details. And, in the end, while it’s not totally original, it’s at least an original remake of a storyline we’ve seen before.

  Chris Pavone held the interest of Grisham, Stephen King and Lisa Scottoline. I’m sure he’ll be delighted to learn he held mine, too. This is a fun read.

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