Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wednesday, December 4, 2013: Maximum Shelf: The Accident

Crown: The Accident by Chris Pavone

Crown: The Accident by Chris Pavone

Crown: The Accident by Chris Pavone

Crown: The Accident by Chris Pavone

The Accident

by Chris Pavone

The book publishing industry has never seemed this sexy and dangerous. Chris Pavone follows up the international success of his debut, The Expats, with a new escapade that blends the worlds of espionage, publishing, corporate corruption and human relationships in one nonstop day of pursuit, flight and struggle among those trying to make a fortune off a manuscript, those trying to prevent its publication, and those just trying to survive the sudden crisis it's brought into their lives.

"But the author isn't one of those possible witnesses. Because if what you are reading is a finished book, printed and bound and distributed into the world, I am, almost certainly, dead." So reads the manuscript of a book entitled The Accident drafted by a shadowy author whose intention to write a sanitized biography of Charlie Wolfe, wunderkind-turned-media-mogul, grew into the decision to expose Wolfe's darkest secrets to the entire world. Beneath Wolfe's veneer of self-made success lies a past of entitlement and cover-ups so vile and far-reaching, Wolfe would kill to keep the truth from seeing the light of day, and he's not the only one. In Copenhagen, a veteran CIA operative will use every means at his disposal to destroy all copies of the manuscript and forever silence the author and anyone unfortunate enough to have read the real story. His lethal determination and cadre of professionals, including Kate from The Expats, will send the lucky scurrying to escape, and leave the unlucky or unaware dead.

When literary agent Isabel Reed receives a copy of the manuscript, it occurs to her to wonder if it's an elaborate hoax aimed at defaming Charlie Wolfe, especially in light of the horrific accident detailed in its pages. Her instincts say otherwise, and they also say possessing a draft of the book could put her in grave peril. Isabel knows if she can get the manuscript published quickly and quietly, its dangerous secrets will be out and the involved parties will no longer stand to gain anything by her death. She passes the draft on to Jeff Fielder, an editor whose love of conspiracy theories is rivaled only by his unspoken but widely known love for Isabel. Unfortunately, Isabel's ambitious assistant had the manuscript long enough to make copies, and suddenly the secret spreads, from the assistant to a ruthless rights director, and on to a Los Angeles producer and a New York publisher in need of a big hit. In one day of action, tension and murder, a tell-all memoir will reshape lives around the world. Throughout the chaos, the anonymous author stays hidden in Zurich, protecting his life and one more excruciating secret.

Wrapped up in this mile-a-minute thriller, meditations on various themes await the reader. Pavone gives us a close look inside the embattled world of publishing and the cutthroat competition for the best manuscripts, backed up by a plot that makes the reader believe life and death really could hinge on the publication of a book. In a business where stars rise and fall as meteorically as those in Hollywood and segments of the industry are disappearing into the maw of the Internet, a tell-all about a media giant could change a career.

At the same time, Pavone paints a stark contrast between the world of the corporate conglomeration, epitomized by Wolfe Media and its privileged, corrupt CEO, and small businesses such as independent bookstores, which his characters revere as champions of literacy and the lifeblood of the publishing industry. The message never becomes didactic, though; the action and mystery develop far too quickly to allow the prose to step into preachy territory.

First and foremost, though, the story explores the layers of betrayal human ambition creates--betrayal of strangers, of loved ones, of our own ideals. Isabel and Jeff have both suffered failed marriages to partners who put work before their relationships or saw them as stepping stones. In their flight from their would-be assassins, both suspect everyone and trust no one, a lesson they both learned prior to these events. However, secondary characters also blunder into the snares and double-crosses that drive the hairpin plot twists, too quick to trust in apparent good fortune. In the end, unforeseen traitorous bargains, shocking truths and revealed connections may leave readers themselves feeling as though they were the true victims of a masterful deception.

Although the story's constant suspense encourages a swift reading pace, setting aside a solid block of time in which to inhale it is advised. When Isabel finishes the in-story manuscript The Accident, she muses, "People in the book business are constantly claiming that 'I couldn't put it down' or 'it kept me up all night' or 'I read it in one day.' This time, all of that was true." Having read the real-world novel The Accident, we know exactly how she feels. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Crown, $26, hardcover, 9780385348454, March 11, 2014

Crown: The Accident by Chris Pavone

Chris Pavone: Sharp Turns

photo: Nina Subin

Chris Pavone is the author of The Expats, which was a New York Times, USA Today and international bestseller, published in 20 languages on five continents. The Expats is in development for a movie, and won the 2013 Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Pavone grew up in New York City, attended Midwood High School in Brooklyn and Cornell University, then worked at a number of publishing houses over nearly two decades. He's married and the father of twin schoolboys, as well as an old cocker spaniel, and they all live in Greenwich Village and the North Fork of Long Island. Pavone recently spoke with us about his adventures in publishing, his passion for local businesses, and his penchant for sharp plot turns.

Like The Expats, The Accident involves expat spies. How were your experiences writing the two novels alike and different?

Everything about writing the two books was completely different. I began working on The Expats while I was an actual expat, a stay-at-home parent in Luxembourg, a first-time novelist writing completely on spec, with no publisher, no confidence, no experience, no sense of whether what I was doing was anything other than crap. I revised the manuscript forever; I added 200 pages, and then deleted 199 of them. This whole thing was like sitting in the dentist's chair for two years straight: constant discomfort, and pain possible at any moment.

I learned a lot of lessons writing The Expats, mostly about how I might avoid torturing myself in the future. Work on The Accident was much smoother, with a lot less time and effort--and pages--wasted. In the end I'm very happy with how both books turned out, but the process for the second was much more enjoyable; it almost never felt like dental work.

The Accident is mainly set in the publishing world. Tell us about your experiences in this arena.

Beginning in 1990, I worked at eight publishing outfits of vastly different sorts. At my first position at a book publisher, Jackie Onassis had the office at the end of the corridor. I copyedited Pat Conroy's passages as he wrote them out of a hotel on the Upper East Side; I read printer's proofs for John Grisham books while on-press at the plant in West Virginia; I revised newspaper articles in a Times Square office wearing my winter coat, when the heat had been turned off because we could no longer pay the rent. I edited with Giada De Laurentiis at her house in L.A., then went to a Beverly Hills party to hammer out a book tie-in to a TV show with an author whose publicity appearance on Today I watched a few months later--from the hospital delivery room where my wife was in labor with our twins. She asked me to turn off the television when the doctor couldn't hear the babies' heartbeats over the noise. I was a copy editor and a managing editor and an acquisitions editor, a proofreader and an associate publisher, a ghostwriter, and the author of a little book about wine [The Wine Log] that consists almost entirely of blank pages. I've done a lot of different publishing things, in a lot of different places, and nearly all of them were fun.

While the publishing industry plays an enormous role in the book, as does espionage, you also shine a hard light on corruption in the corporate world. What made you decide to include this aspect?

The Expats was an espionage novel that's fundamentally a book about marriage--about intimacy and honesty. The Accident is a thriller that at heart is a book about ambition, about the people we really become on the path from our ideals to our realities. I think very few ambitious people emerge from successful careers unscathed by corruption--not only the corruption that surrounds us, but also the ways we allow ourselves to be corrupted. To me this is a central theme of life; I wanted it to be central to this book.

How do you keep your plot twists so tightly ordered when you have so many?

The outline is my best friend, and I spend a lot of time nurturing our relationship, revisiting and revising the chapters, the sequence of reveals. But like any friendship, we sometimes have disagreements, and I end up wanting to do things of which the outline does not approve. Luckily, the outline is a one-page word-processed document, while I'm a person who can hit the delete button. Which is to say that I always win these disagreements. I'm not rigidly bound to my plan, but it really helps me to have one.

Your characters speak fondly of independent bookstores. Do indies hold a special place in your heart?

I prefer independent shops in general, especially my local ones, and I try to buy everything within a half-mile radius of home. I want to live in a vibrant neighborhood, and vibrancy is created in large part by retailers, who, of course, need customers to survive. So I make sure that I am one.

Beyond these selfish motivations, I'm also inclined to transfer my money into the cash registers of small-business owners who are hardworking members of local communities.

And of course, yes, there's something very special about an independent neighborhood bookstore, about a business based on curatorial expertise and knowledgeable hand-selling and long-term customer relationships.

What are your plans for your next project?

In The Expats, my goal was for readers to be mostly in the dark about what was at stake for the better part of the book; the question wasn't simply who did it, but what it was. In The Accident, I wanted to create a microcosm in which there are antagonistic characters--life-threateningly antagonistic, in fact--but not really any bad guys. And for the project I'm currently fiddling with, I'm constructing a world in which the protagonist--and readers--are for a good long while completely wrong about what's going on. I like stories that take enjoyable sharp turns, and those are the types of books I'm trying to write. --Jaclyn Fulwood

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