Arriving in the dark days of February, Lucy Foley’s The Parisian apartment nonetheless feels like the most entertaining kind of summer thriller, a fast-paced, twisty escapist that blends gripping and messy characters, deft narrative evasions, shifting perspectives, and a few genuine surprises to craft a story that will keep you awake. read late into the night.
When Jess Hadley arrives in Paris to visit her half-brother Ben (and escape an uncomfortable personal situation of his own in London), she’s surprised he’s nowhere to be found and none of the neighbors in her swanky new building Don’t be terribly worried. about what happened to him. Naturally, she’s determined to figure out what happened – Ben does a lot of sometimes sketchy things, but she doesn’t think he would have abandoned her so completely – a quest that could end up putting her in more danger. that she could never have predicted.
Feels a bit like a darker version Only murders in the building, The Parisian apartment revolves around the inhabitants of number 12, rue des Amants, oscillating between the perspectives of several different characters as Jess tries to understand what is going on and who her brother was for all these people. Ben’s neighbors range from rude and unhelpful to downright suspicious and even sometimes sinister, and most of them aren’t exactly likable characters, but their stories eventually come together in increasingly compelling and surprising ways.
There’s Nick (“the nice one”), Ben’s college friend who first helped him settle into his current address but now seems to regret their reunion. Wealthy housewife Sophie (“the socialite”) lives in the building’s penthouse and has the kind of controlling husband that means she can never tell him about the blackmail threats she receives. Antoine (“the alcoholic”) thinks Ben might be having an affair with his wife. Mimi (“the girl on the verge”) is an isolated young woman in her twenties with anxiety and confidence issues. And then there’s the mysterious woman known only as “The Janitor”, whose only job seems to be to serve as the literal guardian of the building itself.
Foley’s new twist on the classic Agatha Christie-style locked room mysteries in his previous novels The hunting party and The guest list deservedly won its praise from readers, but fans should be prepared to know how to go The Parisian apartment tweaks that familiar formula a bit, spilling its story onto the streets of Paris and relying on the intricate web of characters at its center to hold things together as the story moves outside of its main location. Which it does, though the end result ends up feeling something closer to Alfred Hitchock than Christie. (See also: Residents’ love of spying on each other through windows and secretly eavesdropping on doors portends a pleasant rear window– kind of voyeurism.)
Yet this shift also allows Foley to make the outside world of Paris itself as important to the story as the hidden stairways that present themselves behind the walls of the titular building, a beautifully charming yet oddly menacing city. . Widespread riots and police brutality in the big city add an intriguing frisson of tension every time Jess leaves the building, while her inability to speak even the most basic French makes her seem increasingly isolated in a world that is becoming increasingly isolated. already feels willing to ignore her and her fears.
As for the Parisian apartment itself, the building’s posh chic conveys both wealth and a stifling sense of claustrophobia, leaving readers to wonder if its tenants are self-sufficient residents or just different kinds of prisoners under a same roof. As secrets are revealed about each of Ben’s neighbors, the motives of each become even more obscure and Jess begins to wonder who his brother was and what he was really working on in France.
Short, catchy chapters and Foley’s propelling prose make The Parisian apartment an easy-to-go title (Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you “just one more chapter” your way of continuing to read in bed at 1 a.m., that’s my point.) Character voices are distinct and strong, and while none of them – even the supposed heroine Jess – are hugely likable as people, that doesn’t mean they aren’t great fun to read. And these days, who is not it need a little European escape with a hint of danger and the threat of murder to boot?
Lacy Baugher Milas is the editor of Paste Magazine, but loves to dabble in all kinds of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.