'The Quiet Tenant,' by Clémence Michallon: An Excerpt
Journalist Clémence Michallon has been intrigued by serial killers since she was a teenager, and she has a special fascination with the type of killer who masquerades as an upstanding family man. "I wanted to write about a man like this, but he doesn’t get to speak," she explained in an interview with Publishers Weekly. "Only the women around him get to speak.”
Her debut novel The Quiet Tenant is entirely narrated by the woman and girls in the life of handsome and sweet Aidan Thomas, who just happens to have also murdered eight woman, with a ninth earmarked to be next. While steering clear of graphic or gratuitous violence, the book's dark secrets and trauma will haunt readers long after the last page.
This excerpt below has been reprinted with permission of the publisher Knopf.
The woman in the shed
You remember bits of yourself, and sometimes they help you.
Matt was the closest thing you had to a boyfriend when you went missing. He was like everything else, a promise that never came true.
The thing you remember the best about Matt: he knew how to pick locks.
In the shed, you have thought about Matt a lot. You have tried a few times. Pried a splinter off the floor, made a discreet dent in a wall. The wood was no match for the large lock on the chain. You worried it would break, and then what?
Then you would have been fucked.
You remember bits of yourself, and sometimes, they help you. Only sometimes.
The man who keeps you returns the next day with hot food and a fork. You stuff five giant bites into your mouth before you even think of trying to identify what you are eating — spaghetti and meatballs. It takes you three more bites to realize he’s talking, two more to find the strength to put down the fork. What he’s saying matters more for your survival than a single meal.
“Tell me your name.”
Your ears are buzzing. You place the lid back on the food container, the leftover meatball calling out to you.
He walks over from the other end of the shed, catches your chin to force your gaze up.
You cannot afford to piss him off. Not ever, but especially not now.
“Sorry,” you say. “I’m listening.”
“No you’re not. I said tell me your fucking name.”
You place the Tupperware on the floor and sit on your hands to keep them from massaging your face where his fingers pressed. Take a long breath in. When you say this, he has to believe you. It has to be a spell, a reading from a sacred text. It has to be the truth.
“Rachel,” you tell him. “My name is Rachel.”
You lower the pitch of your voice, enrich it with the round inflections of fervor. He needs something from you, and he has taught you, time and time again, how to give it to him.
“You found me.” You offer up the rest without him having to ask. “All I know is what you have taught me. All I have is what you have given me.”
He shifts his weight from one foot to the other.
“I was lost,” you recite. “You found me. You gave me a roof.” The next sentence is a gamble. If you lean in too hard, he will see the strings behind your magic trick. But if you hold back, he will remain out of your reach.
“You keep me alive.” You pick up the Tupperware again as evidence. “I’d be dead without you.”
He traces the outline of his wedding band, twists it around his finger a couple of times. Takes it off and puts it back on.
A man free to roam the world, locked in a garden shed. A man who met a woman, held her hand, got down on one knee, convinced her to marry him. A man so determined to control the elements, and still he lost her. Now his world has fallen apart, but in the rubble of his life, he still has you.
And he still has a daughter.
“What’s her name?”
He looks at you like, What are you talking about? You point toward the house.
“Why do you care?”
If telling the truth was an option in the shed, you’d say, You wouldn’t get it. It’s embedded in you, once you’ve been a girl. You pass them on the street. You hear their laughs. You feel their pain. You want to lift them into your arms and carry them over to the end point, sparing their feet from the thorns that drew blood from your own.
Every girl in the world is a little bit me, and every girl in the world is a little bit mine. Even yours. Even the one that’s half you.
I care, you would tell him, because I need the part of you that made her. You would never kill your own daughter, would you?
You sit in silence. Let him believe what he needs to believe.
Want to keep reading? Check out The Quiet Tenant by Clémence Michallon. Preorder now for the book's June 20, 2023 release.
Love thrillers? Check out our round-up of the best crime and thriller novels of the year so far.