Welcome to #ReadWithMC—Marie Claire's virtual book club. It's nice to have you! In March, we're reading Lucy Foley's The Paris Apartment, a mystery that centers on main character Jess who realizes her half-brother Ben is missing when she arrives in Paris to visit him. Read an excerpt from the novel below, then find out how to participate in our virtual book club here. (You really don't have to leave your couch!)
For christ's sake, Ben. Answer your phone. I’m freezing my tits off out here. My Eurostar was two hours late leaving London; I should have arrived at 10:30 but it’s just gone midnight. And it’s cold tonight, even colder here in Paris than it was in London. It’s only the end of October but my breath smokes in the air and my toes are numb in my boots. Crazy to think there was a heatwave only a few weeks ago. I need a proper coat. But there’s always been a lot of things I need that I’m never going to get.
I’ve probably called Ben 10 times now: as my Eurostar pulled in, on the half hour walk here from Gare du Nord. No answer. And he hasn't replied to any of my texts. Thanks for nothing, big bro.
He said he’d be here to let me in. “Just ring the buzzer. I’ll be up waiting for you—”
Well, I’m here. Here being a dimly lit, cobblestoned cul-de-sac in what appears to be a seriously posh neighborhood. The apartment building in front of me closes off this end, standing all on its own.
I glance back down the empty street. Beside a parked car, about 20 feet away, I think I see the shadows shift. I step to the side, to try and get a better look. There’s...I squint, trying to make out the shape. I could swear there’s someone there, crouched behind the car.
I jump as a siren blares a few streets away, loud in the silence. Listen as the sound fades away into the night. It’s different to the ones at home—“nee-naw, nee-naw,” like a child’s impression—but it still makes my heart beat a little faster.
I glance back at the shadowy area behind the parked car. Now I can’t make out any movement, can’t even see the shape I thought I glimpsed before. Maybe it was just a trick of the light, after all.
I look back up at the building. The others on this street are beautiful, but this one knocks spots off them all. It’s set back from the road behind a big gate with a high wall on either side, concealing what must be some sort of garden or courtyard. Five or six stories, huge windows, all with wrought-iron balconies. A big sprawl of ivy growing all over the front of it which looks like a creeping dark stain. If I crane my neck I can see what might be a roof garden on the top, the spiky shapes of the trees and shrubs black cut-outs against the night sky.
I double-check the address. Number 12, Rue des Amants. I’ve definitely got it right. I still can’t quite believe this swanky apartment building is where Ben’s been living. He said a mate helped sort him out with it, someone he knew from his student days. But then Ben’s always managed to fall on his feet. I suppose it only makes sense that he’s charmed his way into a place like this. And charm must have done it. I know journalists probably earn more than bartenders, but not by this much.
The metal gate in front of me has a brass lion’s head knocker: the fat metal ring held between snarling teeth. Along the top of the gate, I notice, is a bristle of anti-climb spikes. And all along the high wall either side of the gate are embedded shards of glass. These security measures feel kind of at odds with the elegance of the building.
I lift up the knocker, cold and heavy in my hand, let it drop. The clang of it bounces off the cobblestones, so much louder than expected in the silence. In fact, it’s so quiet and dark here that it’s hard to imagine it’s part of the same city I’ve trundled across this evening from Gare du Nord: all the bright lights and crowds, people spilling in and out of restaurants and bars. I think of the area around that huge cathedral lit up on the hill, the Sacré-Coeur, which I passed beneath only twenty minutes ago: throngs of tourists out taking selfies and dodgy-looking guys in puffer jackets sharking between them, ready to nick a wallet or two. And the streets that I walked through with the neon signs, the blaring music, the all-night food, the crowds spilling out of bars, the queues for clubs. This is a different universe. I look back down the street behind me: not another person in sight. The only real sound comes from a scurry of dead ivy across the cobblestones. I can hear the roar of traffic at a distance, the honking of car horns—but even that seems muffled, like it wouldn’t dare intrude on this elegant, hushed world.
I didn’t stop to think much, pulling my case across town from the station. I was mainly concentrating on not getting mugged, or letting the broken wheel of my suitcase stick and throw me off balance. But now, for the first time, it sinks in: I’m here, in Paris. A different city, a different country. I’ve made it. I’ve left my old life behind.
A light snaps on in one of the windows up above. I glance up and there’s a dark figure standing there, head and shoulders in silhouette. Ben? If it were him, though, he’d wave down at me, surely. I know I must be lit up by the nearby streetlamp. But the figure at the window is as still as a statue. I can’t make out any features or even whether they’re male or female. But they’re watching me. They must be. I suppose I must look pretty shabby and out of place with my broken old suitcase trying to bust open despite the bungee cord wrapped around it. A strange feeling, knowing they can see me but I can’t see them properly. I drop my eyes.
Aha. To the right of the gate I spot a little panel of buttons for the different apartments with a lens set into it. The big lion’s head knocker must just be for show. I step forward and press the one for the third floor, for Ben’s place. I wait for his voice to crackle through the intercom.
Excerpted from the book The Paris Apartment: A Novel by Lucy Foley. Copyright © 2022 by Lucy Foley. From William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.
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