Prologue, Jess, Sophie, Jess, The Concierge, Jess, Mimi, Jess, The Concierge, Jess 


Around 9 PM, journalist Ben sits by the window overlooking the courtyard of his apartment and hesitates before typing on his laptop. Smoking a cigarette, he reflects upon the story that he is about to write, which he feels will make his name as a journalist. He also awaits the arrival of his sister, Jess, who called him unexpectedly and plans to visit after getting into some trouble at the bar where she works in England. Her timing is highly inconvenient, as Ben feels that it is unsafe for him to remain in the apartment for much longer. Feeling guilty that he hasn’t done more to support Jess, he leaves her a voicemail, giving her instructions to the apartment. As he records the message, he notices a shadowy figure move quickly through the dark courtyard of the apartment complex. Shortly after, he hears footsteps move up the staircase of the building, and he freezes when he hears keys unlocking the door to his apartment. He recognizes the individual who steps through the door and calmly asks them what they are doing there before seeing that they are holding a weapon.  


On a cold winter night, Jess arrives in Paris on the Eurostar rail service and makes her way to Ben’s address. Earlier, he sent her a voicemail with instructions on how to reach the apartment, but when she arrives at his building around midnight, she is surprised to find that he isn’t responding to her phone calls, leaving her stranded on the street with a heavy suitcase. Spotting a brass door-knocker, she lifts it and lets it fall on the metal gate, making a loud sound that cuts through the quiet evening. A light turns on in one of the apartments, and she sees the silhouette of a figure staring down at her. At first she thinks it must be Ben, but her hopes are dashed when the figure doesn’t wave or acknowledge her in any way. Looking back at the metal gate, she sees a buzzer and presses the button for Ben’s apartment, though nobody responds.  


In her penthouse apartment, Sophie is annoyed to hear someone using the loud doorknocker of the building, which is never used by anyone who lives there. She looks down into the courtyard and sees, to her relief, that nobody has been let in from the street. Admiring her own reflection in the mirror, Sophie describes herself as a trim 50-year-old woman wearing luxury brand clothing. In order to meet her wealthy husband’s strict expectations, she eats very little food to maintain a slim figure and carefully dyes her hair black to conceal any gray. In her narration, she alludes cryptically to something unpleasant that she had to do earlier that evening.  


On the street by the apartment, Jess looks at her phone and sees that Ben hasn’t responded to any of her messages since arriving in Paris. However, she does receive an insulting text from someone else, and she blocks the number. She and Ben have never been close, Jess explains, but she was desperate to stay with him for a few weeks despite giving him short notice because she urgently needed to get away from a bad situation related to her former employer at a bar in Brighton, England. Frustrated by Ben’s unresponsiveness, she looks back at the buzzer and sees a button labeled “concierge,” though nobody responds when she presses the button. Jess notices a figure walking towards her and, at first, she thinks it must be Ben before realizing that the figure is too tall and broad to be him.  

The Concierge 

In her tiny cottage at the corner of the courtyard, the unnamed Concierge of the building watches Jess from the intercom screen. The single room where she lives and works is filled with photographs from previous, happier times in her life. She doesn’t recognize Jess and knows that she doesn’t belong in the building, so she doesn’t let her in. Hoping that Jess will simply go away, the Concierge notes that Ben’s presence disrupted the lives of everyone else living in the building.  


Outside, Jess at first thinks that the tall man is approaching her with a knife before realizing that he is actually carrying an iPhone. He takes a call and gets into a loud argument with the person he is speaking to. He walks towards the gate of the apartment and Jess introduces herself as Ben’s brother. The man tells her that Benjamin Daniels is not in the building and, when Jess attempts to question him further, he curses at her, enters a pin number into the keypad, and moves through the gate. Once he is gone, Jess goes to the keypad and enters the correct pin, having memorized it while the man entered the number.  


From her apartment in the building, a young woman named Mimi has a restless night. She looks around her room, full of music records, art supplies, and posters of rock bands. Unable to sleep, she moves towards the living room and looks through the window, across the courtyard of the U-shaped building, and into the window of Ben’s apartment, which is dark and empty. She notices a woman she does not recognize moving silently through the courtyard and feels anxious. She is interrupted by her roommate, Camille, who has returned home from a night out partying. Cryptically, Mimi notes that her life has unraveled because of Ben.  


Jess moves through the courtyard and finds a door that requires a pin number, and she is relieved to see that the same number that she used for the external gate works on this door too. She enters the building and sees a grand wooden staircase, a door labeled “The Cave,” and an antiquated elevator. Hearing someone moving on the stairs above her, she quickly enters the staircase and goes up to the third floor, where Ben lives. After knocking on the door and receiving no response, she uses her earring to pick the lock and enter the apartment. Moving through the darkness, she feels the sudden, sharp pain of something cutting into her.  

The Concierge 

From her cottage, the Concierge watches the tall man enter the building, followed by Jess. She considers stopping her, but she does not want to start a confrontation and decides to sit and observe instead. The residents of the building, she notes, barely notice her, but she herself knows everything that happens in the building and gains a sense of power through her knowledge. The Concierge notes that it would be far better for the girl to turn back and never return to this building, but now it is too late.  


Jess is surprised to feel a sharp pain in her back, but realizes that it is only a cat, which has leapt upon her from a shelf by the doorway. Looking around Ben’s apartment, she finds no trace of him or the laptop that he usually takes with him everywhere. She assumes that Ben must have briefly slipped out of the apartment but notices that the keys to the apartment are inside, as are the keys to his Vespa scooter and his wallet. Feeling increasingly anxious, she pours herself a glass of wine and finds a business card for a newspaper editor named Theo Mendelson, with a handwritten message from Ben that says “PITCH STORY TO HIM!” She looks at Ben’s cat and realizes that his paws are covered in blood.  


The early chapters of the novel introduce most of the central characters, all of whom except for Jess live in a large apartment block in an upscale part of Paris. Those who live in the building all have different personalities and perspectives, but they all comment cryptically and ominously on recent events in the building and Ben’s role in them. Sophie’s narrative reveals that, despite her seemingly luxurious lifestyle, she is under constant pressure from her wealthy husband to maintain her appearance and ward off signs of aging. Mimi, a student at the Sorbonne, experiences a great deal of anxiety when she sees Jess enter the building, though she doesn’t disclose the source of her worries. The Concierge notes that the others in the building barely notice her and her spare, tiny apartment at the corner of the courtyard, though she clearly derives a sense of power from closely watching the others. The various residents of the building all appear to be on edge, as if expecting something to occur, heightening the suspenseful atmosphere that saturates the novel.  

The strained relationship between Jess and her brother, Ben, is a primary focus in these early chapters. Ben acknowledges a feeling of guilt regarding his absent role in his sister’s life. He is annoyed by her sudden and ill-timed decision to visit him in Paris, noting that it is typical of her to rush into action without much planning or foresight. Jess feels that her older brother, who has found some success as a journalist and lives in a swanky, expensive apartment, is embarrassed by her. They have been distant for several years, and Jess acknowledges how little she actually knows about her brother. She is surprised, for example, to discover that he owns a cat, admitting that she never even knew that he liked cats. Even though they do not know each other well as adults, it is clear that they were very close when they were young. Jess notes, for example, that it was Ben who taught her how to pick a lock, a skill which she uses, ironically, to break into his apartment.

Though Jess does not disclose much about her personal life in these early chapters, there are several hints that she has had a hard upbringing and a difficult life. In addition to lock-picking, she is quick to notice the pin number that the tall man uses to enter the building, and she even takes some money from Ben’s wallet. Though she has affection for Ben, she is also comfortable exploiting him for her own gain.  

In addition to these major characters, these early sections also introduce the primary setting: the apartment for which the novel is named. Jess is surprised to discover that Ben lives in such an expensive building, though there is also something dark and forbidding about it. She notes, for example, that the iron spikes around the gate, designed as a security measure, seem at odds with the luxurious appearance of the building. Her feeling that there is something wrong about the building is echoed by Ben in the prologue of the novel, who notes that there is something “rotten” about the building despite its beautiful exterior.