And now for the second showing in our double feature: Behind Closed Doors. Also featuring a creepy door on the cover, you can grab this chiller August 9th.
Another first-person narrative, this is the story of Grace’s perfect life. She’s got a lovely, expensive dream house, great friends, she’s an amazing cook and hostess, she’s beautiful, and of course, she’s got the perfect guy—Jack. He is so perfect that he is even fully supportive and loving of her sister, Millie, who has Down syndrome.
Jack and Grace are still basically newlyweds and are never apart. Since he’s a high-powered lawyer defending battered women, she doesn’t need a job, but she never goes out of the house during the day. The couple hasn’t really even known each other that long, but you know how those whirlwind romances go when you’re really in love, right? Told in chapters that alternate between Grace’s present and the recent past when she met Jack, the story unravels into a modern horror that seems like it almost could be happening somewhere.
The major plot thread is an early reveal and you sleuthers probably already have a few ideas about what is going on behind the closed doors in this seemingly perfect household. This ain’t no fairytale, but it ain’t no OJ Simpson tale (or Oscar Pistorius if you’re into more recent true crime news) either. It’s worse.
In general, I found myself playing a waiting game with this book. I was waiting for it to truly surprise me, waiting for Grace to lady-up and DO SOMETHING, waiting for things to no appear so black and white, waiting for some good old-fashioned action to occur.
I suppose there is one surprise in this book if you don’t count the initial reveal, but it really is so manufactured by the author to be a surprise, or rather, THEE surprise that it all felt a little empty to me. Without giving it up like a girl on prom night, suffice to say that it makes the big bad seem a little suspect character-wise.
If you’re soooo smart, then I don’t really get why this is the master plan. Even after the explanation. It’s just not quite there for me. Seems concocted to horrify readers and that’s about it. This is not to say that books have to be all about surprise. There’s plenty of other pieces moving around here that will keep you wondering how the book is going to end, so this is no reason to toss this on off your TBR. There is definitely suspense being built throughout the novel.
Grace is an extremely inactive character. I get it, there’s not a whole lot she can do, but let me tell you—if it were me in that situation, I’d be getting a hell of a lot more creative. And this is a book for cripessake! I want to imagine her as a resourceful, interesting, intelligent version of me, so do something, ANYTHING!
This probably bothered me more than any other aspect. I realize that the book is going somewhere specific, but we can’t have a heroine who is inactive for 90% of the book. It’s honestly a bit boring. If what’s trying to be depicted here is the painful struggle that domestic abuse survivors go through (albeit with a nasty twist) it is really missing the mark. I really didn’t feel Grace’s tension or angst at all.
There really is no grey area in this book and the grey area is where suspense, and especially psychological suspense, tends to thrive, like a colony of bacteria on a forgotten sandwich underneath a thirteen-year-old’s bed—an especially muggy atmosphere as all scientists know. People are either black or white, angelic or demonic, and this applies to everything that they do, think, feel, breathe on, or shit. No joke.
Real psychological suspense novels are built around misdirection and relentless and destabilizing twists that keep the reader unaware of the characters’ real intentions, motivations, etc., or even just uncertain about the plot in general. I can’t say that this book is doing any of that; it’s pretty up front about what’s going on plotwise. And beyond that, people are not just black and white. Evil cannot just be hidden the way it is in this book and I found it a bit (eye-rollingly at times) unbelievable.
The action piece really goes along with the lack of action on Grace’s part. We get a bit of action in the flashback scenes, which I really quite enjoyed and added a lot of color to the narrative. They were spliced in really well and revealed everything just at the right moment, digging the knife in a bit deeper at each turn of the chapter. It wasn’t that no action existed, it really was that the reader didn’t get to play along.
And in the end, I honestly wish that we got to see more of Jack, because Grace’s version of him cannot be accurate as it is colored by so many different filters.
This is a problem I am having of late in first-person thrillers. There is an infallible, often sociopathic, and even God-like character who cannot be stopped but has one fatal flaw that makes NO sense at all. Or, whose master plan, when it is revealed, is a total hot mess of contradictions to the rest of the character map that has been created. Or, who is always ten steps ahead of everyone around except for one moment when it is life or death for them. These are all (vague as hell) examples from recent thrillers I’ve read.
I think a lot of this could be cleared up (at least by the author) by going inside the bad guy’s head and seeing what’s really in there, by fleshing them out as a real person, and not just a plot device to get from A to B. I want to be scared of this person, not distanced from them.
I read this book on a short road trip and it filled the time just fine. Definitely not one of my favorite books and it isn’t going to be winning any literary awards. I predict that people with lots of gifs on their Goodreads will approve.
Get your copy of Behind Closed Doors (out 9/8)
Find out more about the author: B. A. Paris
Find out more about the publisher: St. Martin's Press
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Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.