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TWO NIGHTS IN LISBON
by Chris Pavone
MCD Books, May 2022
448 pages
$28.00
ISBN: 0374604769


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Ariel Pryce is on vacation with her second husband, accompanying him on a business trip to Portugal. But when she wakes up, he's gone, and he's not answering her texts. As her anxiety mounts, she heads to the nearest police station to report him missing. They seem puzzled. He hasn't been gone long. Why is she so worried? And why does she know so little about this man who she recently married?

Most of this novel is narrated in a close third person, looking over Ariel's shoulder as she frets and thinks about her son at home and recalls all the things that led up to this moment. Yet we can't help but wonder about her state of mind. What is her relationship with this missing man whom she barely knows? Can we quite trust her interpretation of events?

But after a figure on a motorcycle roars up to her to deliver a burner phone, her formless anxiety turns to resolve. Her husband has been kidnapped, a robo-voice tells her. They want three million euros. And she has only forty-eight hours to raise the money.

The plot is that of a political thriller, but the story unfolds gradually, ramping up with increasing urgency. We learn Ariel's backstory in bits and pieces as she confronts a pushy American journalist, skeptical local police, embassy officials, and CIA agents who wonder whether there's a national security angle to this kidnapping. There are too many red flags, but it's hard to get hold of anyone back home who might have answers because it's the July 4th holiday.

Pavone has a knack for writing strong female characters. In Ariel Pryce, he has created a complex woman whose life was shaped by a failed acting career and a vapid marriage to a wealthy man, a lifestyle that came to an abrupt end in a moment of ugly violence and betrayal. She's rebuilt her life as a bookseller who is barely making ends meet but has made sure her son will be provided for. She is hypervigilant, fiercely protective of her privacy, quick to think on her feet and, under a calm exterior, very angry.

It's that anger at powerful men who escape accountability for their actions that propels the action. As Ariel's rage leaks out under high pressure, Pavone takes readers on a twisty path following the steps she takes to rescue her husband and see that justice, eventually, is served.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, March 2022

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