The Paris Apartment Sets a Dark Mystery in the City of LightBooks Reviews Lucy Foley
Arriving in the dark days of February, Lucy Foley’s The Paris Apartment nevertheless feels like the most entertaining sort of summer thriller, a fast-paced, twisty bit of escapism that mixes compelling, messy characters, deft narrative red herrings, shifting perspectives, and a few genuine surprises to create a story that’ll keep you up reading well into the night.
When Jess Hadley arrives in Paris to visit her half-brother Ben (and escape an uncomfortable personal situation of her own in London), she’s surprised that he’s is nowhere to be found and that none of the neighbors in his swanky new building are terribly concerned about what’s happened to him. Naturally, she’s determined to figure out what went down—Ben is many sometimes sketchy things but she doesn’t believe he would have bailed on her so completely—a quest that may end up putting her in more danger than she could have ever predicted.
Feeling a bit like a darker take on Only Murders in the Building, The Paris Apartment revolves around the residents of number 12, rue des Amants, shifting between the perspectives of several different characters as Jess tries to get a handle on what’s happening and who her brother was to all these people. Ben’s neighbors run the gamut from rude and unhelpful, to downright suspicious and even occasionally sinister, and most of them aren’t exactly likable figures, but their stories eventually dovetail in increasingly compelling and surprising ways.
There’s Nick (“the nice guy”), Ben’s friend from university who helped set him up at his current address in the first place but now seems to regret their reunion. Wealthy housewife Sophie (“the socialite”) lives in the building’s penthouse and has the controlling sort of husband that means she’ll never be able to tell him about the blackmail threats she’s been getting. Antoine (“the alcoholic”) thinks Ben might be having an affair with his wife. Mimi (“the girl on the verge”) is an isolated young twenty-something woman with anxiety and trust issues. And then there’s the mysterious woman known only as “The Concierge,” whose sole job appears to be to serve as a literal gatekeeper to the building itself.
Foley’s fresh spin on classic Agatha Christie-style locked room mysteries in her previous novels The Hunting Party and The Guest List has rightly won her praise from readers, but fans should be prepared to know going in that The Paris Apartment alters this familiar formula a bit, spreading its story out into the streets of Paris and relying on the complex web of characters at its center to hold things together when the story moves outside its primary location. Which it does, though the end result ends up feeling something more akin to Alfred Hitchock than Christie. (See also: The residents’ love of spying on one another through windows and secretly listening at doorways hints at an enjoyably Rear Window-esque kind of voyeurism.)
Yet, this shift also allows Foley to make the outside world of Paris itself feel as important to the story as the hidden staircases which turn up behind the titular apartment building’s walls, a city that’s beautifully charming and strangely threatening all at once. Widespread riots and police violence in the larger city adds an intriguing frisson of tension whenever Jess leaves the building, while her inability to speak even the most basic French makes her seem increasingly isolated in a world that already feels disposed to ignore her and her fears.
As for the Paris apartment itself, the building’s posh swankiness conveys both wealth and a stifling sense of claustrophobia, leaving readers to wonder whether its tenants are self-sufficient residents or simply different kinds of prisoners under a single roof. As secrets are revealed about each of Ben’s neighbors, everyone’s motives get even murkier and Jess begins to question who her brother was and what he was really working on in France.
Short, snappy chapters and Foley’s propulsive prose make The Paris Apartment an easy title to get swept up in (Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you “just one more chapter” your way to still reading in bed at 1 am, is my point.) The character’s voices are distinct and strong, and though none of them—even supposed heroine Jess—are tremendously likable as people, it doesn’t mean they’re not a heck of a lot of fun to read about. And these days, who doesn’t need a little European escapism with a dash of danger and the threat of murder thrown on top?
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.