BLURB: Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace. He has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You might not want to like them, but you do.
You’d like to get to know Grace better.
But it’s difficult, because you realise Jack and Grace are never apart.
Some might call this true love. Others might ask why Grace never answers the phone. Or how she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn’t work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. And why there are bars on one of the bedroom windows.
Behind Closed Doors is the story of the marriage of Jack and Grace. And that is exactly what it is – a story, a fairy tale relationship their friends romanticize when introducing them to new people, telling of how they first met – Grace’s Down Syndrome sister, Millie, who is 17, gets up to dance at a concert in the park. A very attractive man who’d been there the week before, and who Grace couldn’t help but notice, ignored the few tuts of disapproval that the odd narrow-minded fool had directed at Millie, and her joy and spontaneity, and got up to join her in a waltz. Of course, Grace was smitten, especially when Jack confessed he’d noticed her the week before too, and returned this week in the hope of seeing her. From then on, they were a couple – or a threesome, when Millie could join them from her school on an outing.
However, Millie’s expensive residential school – Grace has an enjoyable, well-paid, fulfilling job, with plenty of travel – only allows pupils to stay on to the age of 18, and then Grace’s intention had been to have her live with her, with a carer to cover her work hours. When she’d mentioned this in previous relationships, they tended to fizzle out – it is a huge commitment, after all, especially if you want to have children of your own. But Jack, a highly successful and well-off lawyer, has no qualms about Millie joining them; in fact, he assures their parents he’s looking forward to having both of them live with them, allowing their – rather selfish, I thought – parents to divorce responsibility, make Jack and Grace Millie’s joint guardians, and emigrate to New Zealand. (Jack’s actual job was rather hazy, but I assumed he was a high-profile divorce lawyer, although he described it solely as, “prosecuting men who beat women.” Ordinarily this wouldn’t make him a household name, as, sadly domestic abuse cases are in every court daily…oh well, suspend disbelief…) For this reason, and because he is so handsome and charming and perfect, Grace and he are within six months engaged then married, and head off to Thailand on honeymoon. He’s perfect. (As Rizzo would say, “There ain’t no such thing!”)
Act Two. As soon as they arrive in Thailand, Jack is a TOTALLY different man. I’m not even going to go into the details of what he does once Grace is his wife (whose given him all the profit from her house to buy furnishings for the house he’s bought, but she hasn’t seen as it’s a “surprise”. He also has her passport, money, phone…) Jack isn’t a violent man; he never hits Grace – I’d describe what he does as psychological terrorism. I’ll say no more than that, but allow you to discover for yourself how truly evil one human being can be. Yet their small group of friends – his partner, another couple, and a third, new to the group, who alter the dynamic, or rather she does – only see the beautiful house, probably not noticing the locks on certain doors, or the door behind shelves that goes…where? Where exactly does that door lead?
Jack’s leverage over Grace, as you’ll have guessed, is Millie, as he’s joint guardian, and they’re all going to be living there together. Jack underestimates Millie, as people like him tend to. Millie knows very quickly Jack is a “bad man.” The new friend in the group, Esther, seems slightly less enamoured of Jack, asking him, jokingly, to “buy his wife a mobile!” and querying why they share the same e-mail account. The others are the same type as Jack – wrapped up in themselves, and their children, jobs, holidays, houses to the extent that they don’t notice anything off about Grace, and by now she’s got her act off to a T at dinner parties, etc. She has to, as if she messes up…When she realises that Millie is only months from leaving school, she knows she has to do something. But what can she do, when she’s never alone in public?
This is a real thriller of a domestic noir, particularly the second half, when you realise just how ruthless Jack is…the only thing that jarred for me is a big decision he made, near the end – if you read it, or have read it – you’ll know what I mean – which doesn’t ring true. However, it happens straight after SuperSolicitor loses his first ever case, so maybe he was totally preoccupied. It just seemed out of character, that’s all. Grace and Millie were great characters, particularly Millie. Grace could be a sap occasionally, but he picked his victim. I know the situation sounds far-fetched, but to her credit, B.A. Paris does make everything believable – when Grace first tries to get away, he plays the part of the concerned, loving, successful lawyer husband (would a working-class guy in a shellsuit be as persuasive? Class and money help hide domestic violence. And the neighbours won’t hear if they’re over a fence.) He’s also handy with bottles of pills, “I’m sorry, my wife, she’s ill – Grace darling, you’ve just missed your tablet…” It’d probably make a great movie. Anyway, I found it a particularly enjoyable way to spend a couple of evenings, and I certainly won’t be the only one. This’ll be all over the place this year – and have you eyeing your couple friends and their relationship dynamics in a whole new way!