Behind Closed Doors
B.A. Paris
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Buy *Behind Closed Doors* by B.A. Parisonline

Behind Closed Doors
B.A. Paris
St. Martin's Press
304 pages
August 2016
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Although I found it hard to take much of this book seriously, I thought it was mostly a compelling read. Divided into alternating sections in the present and the past, Paris's novel explores the dynamic of domestic abuse through the eyes of a young woman who finds herself ensconced in a sort of internal prison. The premise is, as the title suggests, a closed one--Grace Angel is trying to stand up against her psychologically abusive husband in a cycle of violence that began after their rushed marriage and from Grace’s concerns over the welfare of her younger sister, Millie, who has Down Syndrome.

Millie is just about to be released from a care facility, and the plan is for her to come and live with Grace and Jack. Jack, however, has his own agenda. A murderer and a vicious abuser, Jack’s silent poison soon creeps through Grace’s shattered life. While Grace is forced to play-act the perfect woman who as it all--“the perfect home, the perfect husband and the perfect life”--Jack, a brilliant lawyer who represents battered woman for a living, begins to weave his Machiavellian web, constantly threatening his wife and then poor, innocent Millie with abuse so shocking that it sometimes verges on bad taste.

Ensnared within Jack’s gorgeous, gated mansion in an exclusive suburb just south of London, Grace spends most of her days trapped in her bedroom, figuring out how she can escape from her husband’s abusive clutches. At a dinner party for their best friends, Rufus and Esther, Grace feel a momentary wave of panic that she might not be able to “pull everything off”, though she seeks to stay calm and remind herself that “fear is her enemy.” She tries to think about why she fell in love with Jack, this charming, amusing, intelligent man who danced with Millie in the park and seduced Grace with his money and his charm. Jack’s amiable surface, however, hides a man who knows exactly what to say and how to say it even when he’s aware of not quite crossing a line.

While Esther has her eye on Grace, aware that something is not quite right, Grace attempts to play along with the thin veneer that her husband has so cleverly created in order to survive. The epicenter of the novel is obviously Paris’s portrait of a Jack so deftly painted as a monster that the experience of reading it is, at times, quite devastating. From Jack’s dark family secrets from which he can run from but can never escape, Paris broadens her canvas to include Grace’s own efforts to extricate herself the nightmarish scenario from this criminal mutant, distorted by his own views on how he’s going to torture poor little Millie once she comes to live with them.

There’s no doubt that Paris can write suspense, and her novel is immensely readable even when her prose style is more serviceable than stylish. Still, Paris’s scenes have a tendency to stick, a singular talent that the author reliably exerts throughout the narrative. The pivotal scene comes when newly-married Grace is coerced by Jack into honeymooning in Thailand. For the first time, Grace learns the truth; that her marriage is basically a torture-filled façade and that Jack is some kind of diabolical, murdering misogynist. The main flaw of the story is that Paris expects us to buy Grace’s endless compliance to Jack’s constant psychological gamesmanship. It’s hard to believe that such a modern, 21st-century woman would give up everything she treasures--her job and her independence--just to fall into a relationship with a man whom she hardly knows and hadn’t even slept with before she married him.

Grace is clearly intended to be sympathetic. For most of the time she is, but she also comes across as a naïve and silly wimp, blithely ignoring the signs placed before her and never really taking advantage of the numerous opportunities to cry out for help. In marrying Jack, she knows she’s making the biggest mistake of her life, but she stupidly goes along with it anyway, willfully blind to the ramifications.

There’s a lot of Hitchcock to the book’s diabolical plotting, and also a strong element of Gaslight, the classic story in which a man tries to convince his wife that she is going mad. At least in the end, Paris gives her thinly drawn heroine some brainpower. Grace eventually rises to the occasion, skillfully able to plot her husband’s downfall, but not without help from the vastly more courageous Millie.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2016

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