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The Woman in the Fifth

The Woman in the Fifth

A Novel

  • reading group guide
From the New York Times bestselling author of Leaving the World and The Moment comes the riveting story of a luckless college professor for whom Paris becomes a city of mortal danger.

A runaway bestseller in the UK and France that has been made into a film starring Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas, this suspenseful tour de force from the internationally renowned Douglas Kennedy is the quintessential sophisticated commercial novel.

Harry Ricks is a man who has lost everything. A romantic mistake at the small American college where he used to teach has cost him his job, his marriage, and the love of his only child. Hounded by scandal, he flees to Paris, where a series of accidental encounters lands him in a grubby room with a job as night watchman for a sinister operation. Just when he begins to think he has hit rock bottom, romance enters his life in the form of Margit—a cultivated, widowed Hungarian émigré who shares Harry’s profound loneliness but who keeps her distance, remaining guarded about her past. As Harry wrestles with Margit’s reticence, he begins to notice that all those who have recently done him wrong are meeting unfortunate ends—and it soon becomes apparent that he has stumbled into a nightmare from which there is no escape.

The Woman in the Fifth further establishes Douglas Kennedy as an author who “always has his brilliant finger on the entertaining parts of human sorrow, fury, and narrow escapes” (Lorrie Moore).
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  • Atria Books | 
  • 384 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451602142 | 
  • June 2010
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Read an Excerpt


THAT WAS THE year my life fell apart, and that was the year I moved to Paris.

I arrived in the city a few days after Christmas. It was a wet, gray morning – the sky the color of dirty chalk; the rain a pervasive mist. My flight landed just after sunrise. I hadn’t slept during all those hours above the Atlantic – another insomniac jag to add to all the other broken nights I’d been suffering recently. As I left the plane, my equilibrium went sideways – a moment of complete manic disorientation – and I stumbled badly when the cop in the passport booth asked me how long I’d be... see more

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Woman in the Fifth includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Douglas Kennedy. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Harry Ricks is a deeply troubled man on the run. After a messy affair, a broken marriage, and a disgraced end to his career as a film professor, Harry ends up impoverished and fleeing to Paris, trying desperately to live his fantasy of writing a novel in the city of his dreams. Upon arrival, Harry realizes the city is nothing like the one from his fantasy and he finds himself living in a virtual flophouse on the wrong side of town. The one light in this bleak world is a chance meeting with Margit Kadar, a mature, beautiful, and charming woman living in the Fifth Arrondissement. They begin a torrid, fierce affair. But something very sinister surrounds Harry, as many of his enemies are befallen by sudden misfortune and death. As the bodies begin to stack up, Harry must confront the ghoulish truth about his past, his future, and the one woman who cares for him in this strange city.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Harry Ricks is a deeply flawed individual. We know virtually nothing about his life see more

About the Author

Douglas Kennedy
Photograph by Paul Stuart

Douglas Kennedy

Douglas Kennedy is the author of ten previous novels, including the international bestseller The Moment. His work has been translated into twenty-two languages, and in 2007 he received the French decoration of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Find out more at




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