Author photo credit: Gabrielle Malewski
I'm an author and an award-nominated journalist at The Independent, based in New York.
My debut thriller THE QUIET TENANT will be published in 2023 by Knopf in the US and Little, Brown in the UK. Rights have sold in 30 territories. You can find out more about the book here.
I also wrote a novel in French, which was published in 2020. It's about a female bodybuilder tasked with managing her sister's bakery. Really, it's about bodies and the ways in which we try to feel at home in them. You can find out more about it here.
I studied political science and journalism at Sciences Po in Paris, as well as journalism at City, University of London, and I have an MS degree from Columbia Journalism School.
A pulse-pounding psychological thriller about a serial killer hiding in plain sight, narrated by the women in his life: his 13-year-old daughter, his girlfriend—and the one victim he has spared.
About The Quiet Tenant
Aidan Thomas is a hard-working family man and a respected member of his community. He’s also a kidnapper and serial killer who has murdered eight women. And there’s a ninth he has earmarked for death, a woman he’s renamed Rachel, imprisoned in a backyard shed fearing for her life.
When Aidan’s wife dies, he and his 13-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. After five years of captivity, surely Rachel is too brainwashed 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, too. 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.
“Clémence Michallon has written a classic on her first try. The Quiet Tenant is a daring and completely satisfying . . . bravura feat of storytelling . . . Who in her right mind would attempt a novel utilizing the first, second, and third-person? And then have the skill to actually pull it off.” — James Patterson, #1 best-selling author
I'm a Senior People Writer at The Independent. Here are some pieces I've written on the job:
In early 2019, I interviewed Liam Neeson. After the interview made global headlines, I wrote more about the way it unfolded. As a result of this interview, I was shortlisted for a British Journalism Award (Scoop of the Year) and for a National Press Award (Scoop: Popular Life).
A year later, in early 2020, I covered Harvey Weinstein's criminal trial on the ground in New York City. Here are some of the pieces I wrote during that time:
A: I spent April 2020 living in a house upstate with my husband’s family. I was grateful to be there, but I was also struck by the disruption we were experiencing. After years of having our routines dictated by the rhythm of our respective commutes and jobs, we were suddenly spending a lot of time together, without reprieve. I found this fascinating. I mean, we know what our loved ones do for a living, but how much do we really know about their day-to-day activities?
This got me thinking about how our routines can be disrupted, and what the implications of those disruptions might be. Say, for example, someone had a dark secret they had been able to keep from their family because they were never in close proximity during the day. And then, suddenly, they were no longer apart (early 2020 in a nutshell!). This had the makings of a novel.
I began to play with a few scenarios in my head, eventually landing on a serial killer who keeps someone captive, unbeknownst to his family, thanks to the setup of his property. But then he must move, and as a result, his captive inches closer, becoming somewhat adjacent to his life and family. To me, there was something irresistible about this narrative of worlds colliding.
A: I knew from the beginning that my serial killer would not get to speak. We hear from enough serial killers in real life, and they are unreliable narrators. I’ve always been more interested in hearing from people who lived adjacent to them without knowing they were serial killers (the folks you see on 48 Hours saying things like, “He never looked at me. He looked through me.”) There is something so raw and compelling about what they endured—their truth.
I’m a reporter by trade, so I took writing an authentic serial killer novel as a great responsibility. And writing that novel with an understanding of his motivations and the lives impacted by his actions—without his voice—was a great challenge. Every choice felt meaningful; I left little to chance. And that’s how I landed on multiple perspectives. Since the serial killer here victimizes women, there was something important in the centering of female voices. Telling the story through the voices of three women—my serial killer’s captive (who knows about his crimes), a woman who has a crush on him (who doesn’t), and his teenage daughter (ditto)—felt right.
There has been a movement in true crime to shift our focus away from perpetrators and toward victims. I think it is a powerful reclaiming, one which is changing the way we think about crime. There is a real-world aspect to it: no longer are we talking about serial killers like nebulous killing machines. Instead, we’re told here is this person, who hurt these people in this manner. This is much more powerful.
A: I started working on this novel in the first-person voice of Rachel, the captive in the book. Her story was absorbing, but I found her perspective challenging to sustain. Rachel knows the most about her captor, but she never sees him making his way in the world. And that was a problem I needed to solve.
Then, one day I was walking my dog, listening to a decidedly not-thrillery song called Baila Baila Comigo, by a band called Dominó, and suddenly I thought: “What if I tell this story from other perspectives? The woman who is held captive, yes. But what about another woman who doesn’t know about his crimes? A longtime crush, say? Someone who is about to get a lot closer to him?”
I so rarely get struck by ideas like this. Most of the time, my stories are shaped by small decisions. And that’s why this idea felt so exciting. I wasn’t sure it would work, so I spoke to a friend about it. She convinced me to try it. So I did.
After working on that second voice and perspective, I realized I needed a third one: that of Aidan’s daughter. Her voice came through loud and clear.
And there I had it: my female chorus. I was certain it was the only way I could—and wanted to—tell this story.
A: The first serial killer I learned about was Ted Bundy. My mother told me about him when I was a teenager, and his story terrified me (thanks, mom!). Fear, as it turns out, can quickly turn into an obsession. For years, I would forget serial killers like Bundy existed, and then I would remember him, go on long Wikipedia binges about other serial killers, and forget again. Rinse and repeat.
There’s also this: how could I not be interested? How could anyone think these stories aren’t interesting? Their behavior stretches the limits of what we like to think human beings are capable of. It’s utterly incomprehensible. That, too, can quickly turn into an obsession.
How does someone keep such a secret from their relatives? How do they manage to commit their crimes undetected? Mentally, how do they compartmentalize? How do they transition from their secret existence to their “official” ones? I couldn’t get these questions out of my head until I decided to write my own answers—in a novel (it also helps to have covered true crime in my reporting).
A: I have to start with Mary Higgins Clark. My mother had a whole collection of her paperbacks. Her books had the best covers (I’m French, so these were French editions.) One summer, I picked up my mother’s copy of Loves Music, Loves to Dance, started skimming it... and spent the rest of the day on the floor, entirely absorbed by the story. That ending is a terrifying, heart-pounding scene that will be inscribed in my mind forever. It took me a few more years to write a thriller, but I think that was the day I fell in love with the genre.
Megan Abbott is another. Her 2014 novel, The Fever, about a group of teenage girls seized by strange, unexplainable symptoms, floored me. I didn’t know it was possible to write prose like this. It felt familiar to me, like a language I’d been waiting to hear for a long time. At the end of the book, there was an essay by the author and a Q&A in which she explained how a segment on the Today show had inspired her novel. She also talked about how she had “always wanted to do a novel that addressed the same issues connected to the Salem witch trials but set in the modern day.” That way of thinking about stories, of connecting craft to the real world, seemed so exciting to me. So I set out to read Megan’s backlist and, in doing so, became a fan of her work. The Fever and my experience reading it and reading about it—that’s part of my origin story as a writer.
Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive was another big moment for me. I fell in love with its voice and how Jessica weaves her dual timelines together. It was an example of a novel that knew exactly what it wanted to do, and then it was executed with precision. I also love the ways Jessica talks about craft, ambition, and how persistent she had to be to bring her novel to the screen.
Leila Slimani is a master of telling profoundly dark stories in a mesmerizing literary style. Read her novels The Perfect Nanny and Adèle, and you’ll see she doesn’t neglect anything—not her plot, not her characters, and indeed not her prose. How could she not be an inspiration?
While I was writing, I read Oyinkan Braithwaite’s brilliant novel My Sister, the Serial Killer. It’s an ambitious reimagining of the serial killer novel. Her plot leads her to some pretty big questions (for example: How far does familial love go, and where does one’s morals begin?), and she never shies away from them. That novel exemplifies the brave, uncompromising writing that makes for a great crime novel.
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