The Quiet Tenant by Clémence Michallon – Review
By Sandra Callard
This tightly written thriller could be based anywhere – which is all to the good as the author quite deliberately omits any reference to location. What we do have is Aidan Thomas, a reliable, and outwardly friendly young man who has recently lost his wife.
Aidan is bringing up his teenage daughter, Cecilia, and is a well-liked member of his local society. But he is also a murderer who has killed several young women, and the police are baffled and not making much headway in finding clues to uncover him. He lives in a rented house with his daughter, but the owner has had to ask him to move out as he needs the house.
This McGuffin makes it very difficult for our friendly neighbourhood murderer as his garden shed happens to hold a woman he captured five years ago. He takes her food and drink, cleans her and has sex with her, then leaves her until the next time. However, he does somehow manage to move to a new house where he then locks the woman in a bedroom (a shed clearly not available). Here, the room feels luxurious to the woman after sleeping on a hard floor for so long.
The story at this point begins to feel somewhat improbable – and I wouldn’t blame anyone who is already balking at this premise – and although the reader might feel that this is Rachel’s chance to flee, she is so used to being captive that she dare not take the plunge. Quite surprisingly, what evolves is one of the most unusual and engrossing murder stories I’ve read in a long time.
This strange household of murderer, teenager and woman prisoner is gradually turned on its head as Rachel, which is the name that Aidan has given her and is not her own, becomes braver and cleverer as she decides to try to escape. The reader’s thoughts are right behind her as she attempts some juvenile escapology, but without success. As she grows bolder she finds out how to get into a locked cellar and comes up with a plan as she searches for the proof the police have failed to unearth – that Aidan is responsible for a string of horrific murders.
There is another background theme running throughout about the owner of a local restaurant as she falls in love with Aidan when he becomes a regular. Her final collapse as she learns about him is extremely well done and is a good and thorough example of the breakdowns and effects of the innocents who are found to be connected to atrocity.
The character of Aidan’s daughter eventually comes to the fore, and her conversations with Rachel become some of the most intriguing in the whole book as the story and the characters seem to spin out of control, and all of them must face their demons before they find some peace. The denouement is cleverly executed and produces some effective and astute moments which leave the reader both satisfied and breathless.
The entire theme of the story depends on the three main characters and how they ricochet off each other. They are the major personalities in the story, and it becomes somewhat suffocating as the reader knows everything about the three main characters, but all of them know very little about each other. The ending is surprising and superb as the reader reflects on how an improbable and nasty premise can be turned into something powerful.
‘The Quiet Tenant’ by Clémence Michallon is published by Abacus, £14.99 hardback