Behind Closed Doors is storming the charts at the moment as the debut thriller to watch.It is a fast-paced, immediate read: B.A.Paris introduces us, mid-champagne opening, to Jack and Grace – billed as the perfect couple with the perfect life. He is a lawyer famous for defending victims of domestic violence, she is an elegant housewife content with playing house. Or is she?
It is apparent almost immediately that all is not as it seems, and Paris drops tantalising hints at Grace’s mental state during the first chapter; hints that lure the reader in and make us want to know more. Why does the idea of lunch without her husband excite her so much? Why is she being so careful with what she says? Why does it matter whether her soufflés are perfectly timed?
The author keeps the premise of the book and the number of characters fairly streamlined, which works to great effect – we focus solely on Jack and Grace because they focus solely on each other too. The plot it not complicated by extra characters, aside from Millie, Grace’s younger sister who suffers from Down’s Syndrome and is the catalyst for their meeting in the first place. Jack’s tenderness towards Millie seems to be part of his ‘perfect man’ vibe; he is unfailingly polite, charming, handsome and caring, the only man to dance with Millie as she plays in the park. But of course, the clue is in the title, and behind the gates and doors of Jack and Grace’s newly designed home there lies an entirely different story.
The extent of Jack’s abuse over his wife and the speed with which it happened really chilled me. On their honeymoon wedding night, Jack disappears, only to return to their Thai hotel a changed man. He is cruel, cold and calculating – and he’s made Grace his prisoner. She is never out of his sight, locked in a barred room alone in their huge house, wheeled out to portray the perfect wife at dinner parties and outings to visit her sister. If she ‘misbehaves’ or tries to escape, Jack stops her from seeing Millie for another week, playing on her love for her sister as a guarantee that she won’t escape. In Jack, B.A. Paris has created a particularly sadistic form of psychopath – this is not a tale of sexual or even physical abuse; Jack is an emotional manipulator, hell-bent on invoking fear in both Grace and eventually her sister, when she comes to live with them at the age of 18. There is something almost fairytale-esque about the set-up; the perfect girl locked away, the helpless sister who is unaware of her looming fate. It’s scary stuff and B.A. Paris sustains the tension well throughout. An especially frightening moment for me was when Jack pretends to be a friend sending a secret message to Grace, by shading in words in a borrowed book – ‘is everything alright?’ We are right there with Grace, hearts thumping, as she realises his ploy and dodges the trap of responding.
Behind Closed Doors explores the horrors of marriage – the legally binding contract is Jack’s safety net, his security in calling Grace his wife is made obvious as he tells strangers she is unstable, as he speaks for her and about her and manages to convince the world. The fact that he is her husband gives him ownership of her and keeps her locked inside a terrifying nightmare from which it seems impossible to escape. “Who are you, Jack?” I asked quietly. “Your husband,” he said. “I am your husband. For better or for worse. In sickness and in health. Till death do us part.”
This is a nail-biting read – the publicity tagline is #staysingle – and after reading this, you just might want to.