REVIEW: ‘The Paris Apartment’Published 24/03/2022
Jess arrives in Paris, in need of a fresh start, to stay with her half-brother Ben; but, pretty soon, it seems this may not be the visit she was hoping for. Far from the glitz and glamour, Ben’s apartment block is down a quiet cul-de-sac. Tall and imposing, the beautiful old building stands back from the road, lurking in the shadows behind a big metal gate, and flanked by two high walls. When she rings the doorbell, things get stranger because, although he is expecting her, Ben doesn’t answer. Nor does he answer his phone. In fact, once she finally manages to sneak her way into the building, Ben is nowhere to be found. As she begins to cross paths with the other residents of the apartment, who are far from welcoming, she senses that they know more about Ben’s disappearance than they are letting on. Determined to get to the bottom of things, Jess begins to investigate, and that’s when it becomes clear that this is an apartment of many secrets: held by its residents, both present and absent, and by its unwelcome visitor.
The Paris Apartment is the latest offering from Lucy Foley, author of best-selling murder mystery thrillers The Hunting Party and The Guest List. Vividly conjured settings are a key element of both of these, and the same can be said for her latest novel. As the primary location in which most of the story unfolds, Foley swiftly and skilfully builds a real sense of this apartment block; beautiful but immediately imbued with a threatening presence, from the large and hostile structural details down to decorative details like the ‘creeping dark stain’ of ivy sprawling across the facade and the threatening door knocker with ‘snarling teeth’. Once we get inside, the antique lift, twisting shadowy staircases, creaking floors, locked rooms and evidence of disrepair beginning to show create an unsettling and stifling atmosphere. The u-shaped structure of the building lends itself perfectly to a residence shrouded in secrecy and brimming with voyeurism; cradling its secrets within, and allowing residents to peer across the inner courtyard into the apartments of others.
Foley has assembled and fleshed out a diverse cast of characters in Jess and the residents of No.12 Rue des Amants, to the point that they become very distinct and clear cut ‘types’. There’s Jess, our scruffy, reckless and resilient main protagonist, who valiantly takes on the role of detective, always snooping and questioning; Sophie, the glamorous and perfectly groomed, middle-aged housewife up in the penthouse, working desperately hard to maintain her immaculate appearance while peering down from her ‘multi-million-euro fortress’, trying to ignore the ‘grime beneath the gilt’; Mimi, the anxious and sometimes childlike young woman on the fourth floor, who lives with her flamboyant flatmate Camille; Antoine, the angry and threatening figure who enjoys his drink a little too much; ‘good guy’ Nick, on the second floor, who is the reason Ben came to live here but whose friendship with Ben seems to have taken some unexpected turn a while back; and the concierge, a shuffling old lady, who lives in her tiny cabin in the courtyard and watches everything from the shadows. As we are introduced to these characters, we discover that Ben seems to have been a disruptive presence, and may not have been any more welcome then than Jess is now; and, as Jess gets to know them, she needs to figure out just who she can and can’t trust.
In the first half of the novel, Foley focuses on painstakingly building the atmosphere within the residence, drip-feeding us details to heighten the mystery of Ben’s disappearance and conjure a sense of what his neighbours are like. The second half of the novel really picks up pace, drawing us out more into the streets of Paris and the darker side of the City of Light, as Jess’s investigation gathers pace and certain truths begin to emerge. The chapters are short, rotating points of view between Jess and various other characters, making this a fast-paced and compulsive read. Foley skilfully and vividly conjures her characters, from two vantage points, letting us see inside their heads but also as observed by Jess; showcasing how things are not always what they seem. The swiftly changing points of view also serves to heighten the tension, pointing a finger in one direction, before suddenly and unexpectedly jerking it back in another. Each chapter divulges some new part of the puzzle, or some new aspect of a character. While they may not be the most likeable crew, Foley develops most of the characters enough to give us a greater understanding of what is driving their behaviour. There is very much a sense of people bringing their pasts and their problems to this building, and Ben’s disappearance becomes just one piece of a larger puzzle.
This is a fun and fast-paced read, rich in atmosphere and with a classic whodunnit vibe to it. Foley does a fantastic job of building the suspense and momentum of this novel, drawing us towards a climactic conclusion, and keeping us guessing until the very last moment about Ben’s fate.
Title: The Paris Apartment
Author: Lucy Foley
Publisher: Harper Collins
Reviewer: Róisín Russell
Publication date: 3 March 2022