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A bored housewife jumps back into the spy game again in ‘The Paris Diversion’

In one of many can’t-look-away scenes in “The Paris Diversion,” a man wearing a suicide vest stops walking through the courtyard of the Louvre when he spots 100 schoolchildren enjoying a day trip. Is this where he’ll detonate the vest? Does the suitcase he carries hold a dirty bomb that could spread radiation throughout the museum?

Scenes like this are ubiquitous in thrillers written since 9/11, and Chris Pavone takes advantage of what we now call the new normal in his multilayered fourth novel. The book refers back to his blockbuster 2012 debut, “The Expats,” a much-talked-about novel of international intrigue and an imploding marriage. But you need not have read “The Expats” to be immediately captivated by “The Paris Diversion.”

Kate Moore, the American at the center of the “The Expats,” is now living in Paris with her husband, Dexter, and their two young sons. If you don’t know Kate from reading “The Expats,” you probably know women like her. She wants it all but can’t find a balance. She’d gone from being a Langley analyst/intelligence agent/assassin to a stay-at-home mom, and she was miserable. It all changes when she discovers that Dexter has moved the family to Europe so he can steal 500 million euros through a cyberhack. She comes back to life mopping up his mess, and for reasons we’ll leave unexplained she’s now running an off-the-books CIA substation in “The Paris Diversion.”

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Kate believed she could start over in Paris but realizes she’s been fooled “by the delusional charade that she could have everything, that maybe she even deserves everything.” Like “The Expats,” “The Paris Diversion” is as much the story of a modern woman as it is a globe-hopping thriller. Which leads us back to the suicide bomber. When go-getter Kate hears about the situation at the Louvre, she rushes to the scene thinking she can effect an outcome that will benefit her career. She’s not happy, but she’s practical.

On the same day, in another part of Paris, American billionaire Hunter Forsyth goes missing hours before he’s due to make a major announcement that will make him richer. When Kate discovers he’s a man despised by Dexter, she worries that maybe Dexter is somehow part of the possible kidnapping. And could the missing CEO and the threat to the Louvre and a handful of other high-value targets in Paris be linked? If all this sounds outrageously over-the-top, well, it is. But it worked in “The Expats,” and it works here, as well. Kate will get to the bottom of it.

The outrageous plot and equally crazy subplots unravel in just one day in Paris. Readers may be scratching their heads as the story’s timeline zips from past to present and location to location with no warning and from one slow-to-be-identified character to another. Eventually it melds together.

With the deft hand of someone who understands what drives people to make bad decisions, Pavone delivers mostly selfish and shallow characters who both fascinate and repulse us. Perhaps the only person we feel sorry for is the man in the suicide vest. To reveal any more about other characters or plot points would amount to an avalanche of spoilers, but the novel’s message is clear: There’s nothing people won’t do for money. When the novel’s diversion is revealed, you’ll understand why Pavone prefaced his novel with a quote from Harry Houdini: “What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes.” It may be the most clever plot twist of the year.

Carol Memmott, a freelance book critic, lives in Northern Virginia.

By Chris Pavone

Crown, 373 pp. $27

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