When I began reading Clémence Michallon’s The Quiet Tenant, I believed, with no basis whatsoever except for the author’s name, that I was reading a book written by a Canadian woman. It wasn’t until I read the author’s biography that astonishment took over. Clémence Michallon is a French woman whose first language is, of course, French and she decided that she was going to write and publish a novel in English. And what a novel it is! A definite must-read for all of you crime and mystery readers.
Blurb: Aidan Thomas is a hard-working family man and a somewhat beloved figure in the small upstate town where he lives. He’s the kind of man who always lends a hand and has a good word for everyone. But Aidan has a dark secret he’s been keeping from everyone in town and those closest to him. He’s a kidnapper and serial killer. Aidan has murdered eight women and there’s a ninth he has earmarked for death: Rachel, imprisoned in a backyard shed, fearing for her life.
When Aidan’s wife dies, he and his thirteen-year-old daughter Cecilia are forced to move. Aidan has no choice but to bring Rachel along, introducing her to Cecilia as a “family friend” who needs a place to stay. Aidan is betting on Rachel, after five years of captivity, being too brainwashed and fearful to attempt to escape. But Rachel is a fighter and survivor, and recognizes Cecilia might just be the lifeline she has waited for all these years. As Rachel tests the boundaries of her new living situation, she begins to form a tenuous connection with Cecilia. And when Emily, a local restaurant owner, develops a crush on the handsome widower, she finds herself drawn into Rachel and Cecilia’s orbit, coming dangerously close to discovering Aidan’s secret.
Told through the perspectives of Rachel, Cecilia, and Emily, The Quiet Tenant explores the psychological impact of Aidan’s crimes on the women in his life—and the bonds between those women that give them the strength to fight back. Both a searing thriller and an astute study of trauma, survival, and the dynamics of power, The Quiet Tenant is an electrifying debut by a major talent.
One woman known to us until almost the very end as Rachel is kept in a shed. The shed is on the property of serial killer Aidan’s in-laws. When his wife, their daughter, dies, they ask him to move. Aidan is adored in his small town community. He’s always there for people in need, there to help them rebuild or to fix things. No one knows or even suspects that he has a violent secret life. Sometimes his thirteen year old daughter, Cecilia, feels a little frightened of him, but that’s a passing thing. She is his daughter and would do anything for him. And then there’s Emily, running her parents’ restaurant who looks forward to those days when Aidan Thomas sits on a stool at her bar and drinks a cherry coke. The Quiet Tenant is told through the voices of Rachel, Cecilia, and Emily with short chapters in the voices of Aidan’s victims that throw light on the pitiable things that he says to them before he kills them.
Rachel has been living in fear for five years. She’s unclear as to why he’s kept her alive except that it may have something to do with her being unexpected. She knows unexpected things. She behaves unexpectedly. But she knows that she’s living on borrowed time and that the slightest thing could set him off. Moving into a house though is a breakthrough. She’s certain that his teenage daughter will prove to be an ally. Or will she?
Cecilia feels like she is an outcast. People pity her since her mother died. The woman that her father brings to live with them is strange. Weird. But maybe she is also a friend.
Meanwhile, Emily is doing everything she can to get Aidan’s attention. Maybe it’s a little soon after he’s lost his wife, but you can’t succeed if you don’t try.
Clémence Michallon does a stunning job of bringing these characters to life, making the reader care about them, instilling them with hubris or fear. As we learn Rachel’s backstory, we are on the edge of our seats as we wait with her for the “right time” and then begin to wonder if she’ll ever make her move, or if she’ll perish when Aidan’s grown tired of her.
The Quiet Tenant is indeed a page turner, an edge of the seat ride, that I literally read in a day because I needed to know what was going to happen. I haven’t done that in ages. Is there any better recommendation than that?
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.