April 20th, 2019


Book #23: Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Number of pages: 293

Grace, the narrator of this book is married to Jack; the book opens with them hosting a dinner party with friends, before flashing back to their first meeting when Grace eventually accepted a somewhat hasty marriage proposal from Jack.

The first few chapters felt a bit dull, just an observation of a married couple, though the fact that they were occasionally denying having skeletons in their closet gave me hope that something was not right with their marriage.

Eventually, things picked up in another flashback, to the couples' honeymoon. Grace wants to visit her sister Millie in hospital on the way to the airport; Millie has downs syndrome, and is in hospital because she fell down a flight of stairs on Grace and Jacks' wedding day.

When Jack hears about Grace's plans to visit Millie, he starts to get manipulative, saying she must choose between him and Millie, and that if she goes to the hospital, he'll go on the honeymoon without her. Grace feels that she has no choice but to go straight to the airport.

When they reach their hotel, things start turning nasty. First off, she finds that Jack has booked them into a terrible hotel, but then Jack starts a campaign of psychological abuse against Grace, which mostly involves him locking her up at home, even in their hotel room where they are meant to be spending their honeymoon; he even convinces other people that she is mentally unstable, and occasionally tricks her into thinking someone else is going to save her from her torment. It turns out that his father was a wife beater, and got him involved in what he was doing, which ended with Jack killing his own mother, a crime that his father got jailed for.

I really wanted to enjoy this book; the realism was good, with Jack and Grace acting like nothing was wrong in front of others, which tends to be what happens with abusive relationships.

However, first off, the structure was a little annoying. So, the chapters alternate between the "past" and the "present", making it completely non-linear. I thought there was a strategic reason for doing this, but towards the end it felt like an annoying gimmick, and it just felt annoying that the story was constantly jumping back and forth in the timeline, just as a way of adding suspense.

The only real explanation offered for Jack's behaviour seemed to be that his father turned him into some sort of woman-hating monster, but that might have been the point, as people who abuse their spouses probably don't really have a lot of motivation for their behaviour. The writer did add a nicely ironic touch by making Jack a lawyer responsible for prosecuting men who battered their wives.

Also, it really did start to fall apart with an ending that was both predictable and long-winded.

Spoilers coming up now, so I'm going to put this behind a cut.

[Spoiler (click to open)]

One of Jack's plans in the book involves wanting to lock Millie up in the cellar of their house after she moves in with them. Jack even promises her a nice yellow room, which he shows to her, while he's really planning to lock her up in a red-painted room full of pictures of the battered wives he defended (for some reason instead of putting up the photographs he had access to, he get Grace to paint copies of them to put up in the room). This led to one of the better parts of the book, which Jack did slip up when talking to friends, saying that Millie was looking forward to her red room.

It also turns out that Millie's fall was no accident, as Jack had pushed her, as she reveals to Grace at one point, before suggesting that Grace give Jack an overdose of sleeping tablets. The book then turns into a case of will-she-or-won't she? Turns out, she does, but I was hoping for something a bit more unexpected.

The last few chapters just felt like they dragged, particularly when Grace has travelled to Thailand, and is waiting for Jack to arrive on a separate flight, only not to show up because, as we find out, she has managed to give him the overdose and lock him up. The chapter involves her calling up Jack's colleagues and asking where he is, presumably so she doesn't look too suspicious, but the fact that I ended up reading a blow-by-blow account of exactly what she did to draw suspicion off her, before then flashing back to explain that she'd given him the overdose, just annoyed me. In the end, it turns out the overdose didn't kill him, and he ended up dying of dehydration while locked in the cellar.

This book seemed like a good concept, but it ended up poorly executed, and in the end didn't feel particularly original.

Next book: I Shall Wear Midnight (Terry Pratchett)