Written by Chris Pavone — The Accident follows Chris Pavone’s hugely successful debut novel The Expats, and charts the severe ramifications of an inflammatory manuscript called The Accident. The action begins when Isabel Reed, one of New York’s foremost literary agents comes into possession of the document, which directly threatens Charlie Wolfe, a prominent and powerful media mogul with political aspirations. Its pages detail his involvement in the death of a young woman after a night of drunken antics while Wolfe was a college student. For many years Charlie’s father Preston, a former deputy director of the CIA, has covered up the events of that fateful night, paying off Charlie’s accomplice Dave to the tune of $1 million. However, Dave can remain silent no longer and fakes his own suicide while making sure that The Accident arrives in the hands of Reed.
Not only has Wolfe’s activity resulted in the death of a student, but his secret links to the CIA have been used to ruin many a career during his ascent in the media world. Because of its content, the document puts Isabel Reed into extreme danger too. As more copies of the manuscript start to circulate, those who come into contact with it start to die. Isabel is the sole holder of the book and she embarks on a race against time for the truth to come to light.
Set over a compressed timeline of 24 hours, The Accident reads like an episode of the TV series 24, detailing a dangerous game of cat and mouse that seems tailor-made for a mini-series of its own. No doubt influenced by true life events such as Edward Kennedy’s involvement in the Chappaquiddick incident in 1969, Pavone explores what political and social power affords the more privileged and ambitious members of American society. This is the most satisfying element of the book, with its skilful depiction of the power of the media, and the protection Wolfe has received thanks to his connections to the CIA. At the same time, he depicts some of the tawdry realities of the publishing world which is awash with laboured literature and celebrity biographies, with plenty of backroom goings-on to boot.
However, as a whole The Accident is rather hard going despite its compressed timeline and thriller structure. I did like the reprise of characters from The Expats, particularly CIA operative Kate Moore, but I didn’t fully engage with the new characters. For the most part they conform to some pretty well-worn stereotypes and fail to raise any real empathy. The Accident becomes a ‘who’s going to die next’ game as Isabel Reed and her cohorts are threatened and picked off one by one. The inclusion of excerpts from the manuscript are more of a distraction, and I saw the grand reveal at the end coming a mile off.
Despite the general acclaim and enthusiasm for this book from other reviewers, compared to the author’s marvelous debut The Accident is a disappointment.
Faber & Faber
CFL Rating: 2 Stars