Thriller: The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley, HarperCollins, 386 pages, paperback €12.99; e-book €8.99
The crime/psychological thriller market is now a particularly crowded field, and in such circumstances, it’s rarely a bad idea to go back to basics.
After three novels delivering escapist historical fiction, Lucy Foley then turned to mystery thrillers, each bearing the hallmark of chilling classics.
Three books into this pivot, she is already the high priestess of whodunnit, blending plots and plots tight as magnet coils, with healthy touches of glamour.
Her fourth novel, the hunting party, set in the heart of Scotland’s wilderness, was one of the best-selling debut thrillers of 2019; the The guest list, located on Inishbofin, has become a New York Times bestseller and was shortlisted for a Crime Writer’s Association Dagger Award.
His form race continues with The Parisian apartment, a story born from Foley’s short writing trips to Airbnb apartments in the French capital. The novel has a strong sense of place; not just the city, but the claustrophobia of apartment living.
A Parisian building happens to make a nice backdrop for a murder mystery; several small worlds revolve nearby, each with a different degree of dysfunction. When someone goes missing, the townspeople must open their doors and tend to each other.
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Jess is a woman who needs to pull herself together after a few missteps in life. She decides to accept the (insincere) offer of her half-brother Ben to stay with him in his Paris apartment: a sumptuous property that he can only afford through a friend he met at the university of Cambridge.
The relationship between siblings is troubled. Ben was adopted by a middle-class family after being orphaned and enjoyed many privileges. Jess had a different experience, moving through various foster homes. By the time she arrives at Ben’s doorstep, she is unlucky and has just quit a job, but without bowing. When he doesn’t answer the door, Jess bursts into the apartment to find a cat covered in blood and no sign of her brother.
It doesn’t take long to realize that he has already cast a shadow over the building. Jess is then forced to try to ring Ben’s neighbor bells. There is the dark concierge; the “constantly hungry” but perfectly haired socialite Sophie and her wine merchant husband Jacques. There’s Camille and her roommate, the friendly student Mimi, who has become infatuated with Ben.
The alcoholic Antoine, meanwhile, suspects Ben of having an affair with his wife. None of them are particularly happy to see Jess dragging her suitcase through the door. They seem to have little to do with each other and are happy enough to keep it going. It’s something that has less to do with Parisian coldness than with their own shadow life.
“I don’t know how we got here,” says Sophie. “But I know it started with him coming here. Move to third floor. Benjamin Daniels. He destroyed everything.
Told from the perspective of Jess and the various residents of the block – some of whom may know where Ben is – The Parisian apartment is just as atmospheric as its predecessors. And yet, Foley delivered something even more accomplished and immersive, managing to tackle topics as diverse as exploitation, abuse and family dysfunction amid the whodunnit’s rollout.
Even before anything untoward happens, Ben and Jess’ relationship is a rich seam for mine. The drip of clues is tantalizing and the staccato chapters ensure the action unfolds at a ferocious pace.
For some readers, this rapid pace of change may seem frenetic, but for fans of the genre who love lots of ominous moments of change and bait, The Parisian apartment comes of course what it hopes to deliver. The Hitchcock-fiddle-shriek quotient is reassuring, while Foley’s usual hallmarks of glamor and privilege — the wine cellar, the sleek bob haircuts — are present and correct.
It’s no surprise that later in the year Foley will contribute to a collection of Miss Marple stories, alongside stalwarts Kate Mosse and Val McDermid.
Foley has previously been compared to Ruth Ware and has been described as a ‘millennial Agatha Christie’, but there is also a cross call to The Parisian apartment. The building’s various personalities were developed throughout the first half of the book, while subplots about extortion and roommates add meat to the story’s tense spine.
It all leads to a satisfying revelation whether you came for the “locked room” crime or not.