The Quiet Tenant by Clemence Michallon was a proverbial sleeper for me. Not because I thought it wasn’t paced well. I noticed other bloggers, bookstagrammers and reviewers commenting on it being slow out of the gate, some saying they ended up putting it aside. I confess I had ignored it for some time, the blurb making it sound a tad predictable. Hence my surprise when I was intrigued from its opening, with Michallon able to offer multiple voices and give readers insight into the complexities of human nature as we look upon a serial killer who’s also a helpful and thoughtful member of his community, and devoted father.
The Quiet Tenant
by Clémence Michallon
Published by Knopf Publishing Group
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense, Psychological Thriller
Aidan Thomas is a hard-working family man and a somewhat beloved figure in the small upstate New York 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.
There’s a quiet preponderance (#orsomething) to this book. A slow dripping of details rather than a languid pace. A tenseness imbued in the narrative delivered by the woman we know as ‘Rachel’. And I very much loved the way each of her chapters is labelled in a way that remind us that – to her captor – she’s ‘The woman in the shed’, or ‘The woman in transit’, or… ‘The woman without a number’. The latter perhaps is most telling because Rachel was meant to be a woman with a number. Until she wasn’t and we wonder why she’s been kept alive, when others haven’t been so – dare I say – lucky.
Rachel refers to her captor only as ‘he’ or ‘the father’ (once she learns he has a daughter) though eventually learns his name is Aidan. We also see him through our other narrators, Emily, a potential love interest, and Cecilia – his young daughter. And finally through those who come before and after Rachel – those with numbers and there’s a sadness and sense of waste as they share the last moments of their lives.
Michallon does a great job with those very brief chapters or interludes without being overly sentimental or even sharing the details. It almost felt like there’s a mysterious beauty about them; she doesn’t romanticise them or dramatise them, but rather proffers the women and their stories with honour and respect.
I felt a strong but weird sense of appreciation to Michallon here for the way she’s approached this. The blurb kinda implies that Rachel has developed Stockholm Syndrome and knows no other life, but we soon are offered snippets of memories from her past life.
In some ways we’re given a lot of the answers, but at the same time Michallon doesn’t really bother to explain the why. Why Aidan kills. What led him to become a killer or the psychopathology around the fact he’s able to contain his urges or desires for much of the time which of course is challenged here as his worlds start to collide. And though I usually appreciate answers, I didn’t need them here. For this story isn’t about Aidan. It’s about Rachel.
The Quiet Tenant by Clemence Michallon was published in Australia by Hachette and now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.