I read The Paris Apartment, the latest thriller by Lucy Foley, in two sittings. It kept me guessing nearly to the end, with some unexpected twists along the way. When penniless Jess arrives in Paris to spend some time with her half-brother, he has disappeared. What follows is a page-turning story of the apartment block where Ben has been living, its inhabitants and the confusing discoveries Jess makes as she tries to find him. It makes her question if she really knows her brother and why he has been so distant from her. This is a book about secrets, small ones, shameful ones, old and new secrets. And one huge one. Jess, at times vulnerable at times recklessly brave, attempts to be pleasant to Ben’s neighbours in this surprisingly elegant old Parisian apartment block. The snobbish couple in the penthouse, the two young women sharing on the fourth floor, a thug and his wife, the silent concierge plus Ben’s old university friend, Nick. The viewpoint swaps quickly between Jess and the other residents as Foley pushes the action quickly from event to event. The chapters are short and snappy and this makes it easy to read just one more, and one more. As Jess struggles to make a connection with these neighbours, she doesn’t know who to trust; and neither did I. I didn’t like any of them and Jess herself is difficult to connect with. But the mystery led me on.
The apartment block offers a kind of ‘closed room’ setting, well-used in crime stories, and it does its job well. It is grand yet mysterious with hidden doors and stairs, spooky attic and cellar, a cranky old lift and a C-shaped construction around a courtyard allowing residents to observe each other. I had a clear picture of it in my head.
Where is Ben? Did someone see him leave? Why hasn’t he answered his phone? And why is he living in Paris anyway? Nick offered him the flatshare but the two men haven’t been in touch for years. Given we don’t see Ben’s viewpoint except a brief Prologue, some things are hidden until the very end. The lines between current time and flashbacks at times seemed blurred and I got a little irritated with Jess’s naivety. A couple of scenarios I thought might be possible turned out to be wrong, but it was fun guessing.
Lucy Foley uses glamorous Paris alongside the sinister apartment building, riots on the streets, juxtaposing Parisian elegance with the seedier side streets and alleys, clubs and bars. As Jess considers each of her neighbours, trying to work out who knows what, shuffling up and down stairs trying to eavesdrop, she inevitably lands in trouble.
A satisfying fast read, helped by short chapters in different viewpoints which gradually construct the mystery like layers of filo pastry.
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