The Paris Apartment
Grade : B-

Lucy Foley’s The Guest List was one of my favorite mysteries of 2020 so naturally, when The Paris Apartment came up for review, I was eager to read it. Like The Guest List, the events in this book take place over the course of just a few days and the plot resembles a locked room mystery in that everything vital takes place at one location.

This is a difficult book to describe because not a lot happens. Rather than being action or event-driven like most mysteries, it is a character-driven story told by alternating narrators who have quite different perspectives. The early chapters are spent sorting through their various personalities and it isn’t till we reach the halfway point that we discover the truth about many of them, and our own understanding of what is actually happening begins to form. Since the revelations lie within deep spoiler territory I will only be giving a superficial look at the plot and the people driving it within this review.

Our tale begins with a young British gentleman named Ben being deeply frustrated by an upcoming visit from his sister Jess. She’d simply announced she was arriving, hadn’t asked if she could come but had booked a flight and told him when to expect her. Jess’s timing, as always, is horrible. Ben, a journalist, is in Paris working on an investigative piece for a magazine and is at a crucial point in his research. He realizes that he is also at a dangerous stage in his exploration when someone unexpectedly enters his apartment just as he is calling Jess to arrange to pick her up.

Jess is annoyed that Ben didn’t bother to meet her at the airport and that she has had to find her own way to his apartment. She is even angrier when, upon arrival at the building, she has to essentially break and enter to get into Ben’s empty flat. Her initial plan is to give him a piece of her mind when he finally gets home, but as the long hours of the night stretch on Jess’ ire turns into a deep worry. Ben can be a bit of a jerk, but this circumstance stinks less of his typical selfishness and more of him being involved in some kind of problem.

Jess’ search of the apartment doesn’t yield many clues but does increase her concerns. There are blood drops that might mean Ben’s been hurt, not profuse enough to indicate a life-ending injury but definitely disconcerting. His coat and wallet are both still in his room. And the whole building gives off a creepy, almost ghoulish vibe that makes her feel uncomfortable, as though something sinister has the entire facility in its grip.

Determined to locate her brother and set her fears to rest, Jess contacts his editor to learn what Ben has been working on. The man can’t give her any real answers to that question but he does help her amplify a message Ben had left on her phone. The enhancement enables them to hear sounds of a struggle of some sort at the end, increasing Jess’ worries for her brother. Her next step is to question his eccentric neighbors. She starts with Nick Miller,  n old friend of Ben’s and the one who had hooked him up with the apartment. Jess figures the two men are close but while Nick is outwardly cordial and helpful, she can’t help feeling there is something deeply wrong beneath his surface geniality.  Wealthy, sophisticated socialite Sophie lives in the penthouse and routinely invites all the neighbors for drinks. Her husband Jacques Meunier, a wine merchant, is away on business when Jess essentially crashes the weekly cocktail party but an air of fear surrounds every mention of his name, as though his menacing presence is hovering over all the guests. It is at this event that Jess gets to watch all the residents interact. There is Antoine, who is clearly an alcoholic, someone who shouldn’t be enjoying as much of the wine Sophie serves as he does. He simmers with an air of violence, so it's no surprise to Jess when she learns his wife, Dominique, has left him. Then there is the fragile, odd young artist Mimi, who shares an apartment with the voluptuous, sensual Camille. The two are a grotesquely mismatched set of roommates and Jess struggles to see how they could even be casual acquaintances, much less friends. Finally, there is the long-serving seemingly nameless concierge of the building who watches everyone closely. Jess thinks she has them all figured out, a group of loners and misfits with some money who’ve managed to find a good location to live out their weird little lives. But she’s wrong.

Jess is a fairly inept investigator who spends most of her time talking to people and surviving the inevitable consequences of those conversations by sheer luck. A foster child who never landed in a good situation, she has always been envious of her half-brother Ben, whose good looks and charm saw him adopted out of the system by a well-off family and given him the kind of posh lifestyle Jess can only dream of. Both she and Ben are described as foxes in a hen house and I found that a rather accurate image. They tend to be low-level predators in a world full of prey, the kind of people who use and discard others easily. They can be kind and do good deeds sometimes, but they are mostly concerned with looking out for themselves.

This leaves us with a character-driven narrative in which the characters are hard to like or empathize with. The denizens of the apartment building are all odd, selfish people with troubled pasts just trying to survive, with that survival making them careless of the survival of others.

What is positive about the text is that Ms. Foley is a master at nuanced characterization; the characters are like a train wreck; not in the least enjoyable but their layered personalities make them compulsively fascinating. You can’t help but be interested in what they are up to. The smooth mesmerizing prose creates a chilling, eerie atmosphere which lends a touch of delightful spookiness to the tale. Nothing much happens but nothing much needs to; the aura of menace and danger is what moves the story forward even with very little actually occurring. The explosive conclusion, therefore, comes as a surprise, like a bomb going off in the midst of utter stillness. The shock of the ending almost makes up for the endless pages of nothing you have to read to get there.

The Paris Apartment will be a good fit for readers looking for a literary gothic. The elegant writing, ominous ambiance, and rich characterizations coupled with the slow burn mystery will fit fans of that genre perfectly. Those who enjoy fast-paced thrill rides will probably want to give this a miss, though, as the story definitely doesn’t cater to that audience.

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible or your local independent retailer

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Reviewed by Maggie Boyd
Grade : B-
Book Type: Mystery

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : April 6, 2022

Publication Date: 02/2022

Review Tags: Paris

Recent Comments …

  1. What kept me reading was the sheer unpredictability of the storyline. I knew David’s and Chelsea’s paths would cross again…

Maggie Boyd

I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.
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