Behind Closed Doors Summary

B.A. Paris

Behind Closed Doors

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Behind Closed Doors Summary

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B.A. Paris’s novel Behind Closed Doors is a 2016 psychological thriller that tells the story of Grace Angel and Jack who are seemingly flawless newlyweds, but their struggles are far greater than those in any regular marriage. In the opening scene, the happy couple is entertaining from their gorgeous home in New York, but it is evident that something is off with Grace. Despite her well-kept appearance (both personally and in her home), she is flustered and nervous, and hints of her unease crop up throughout the dinner party.

These first signs of suspense propel the novel forward through alternating past and present tenses, all from Grace’s perspective. At the party, Grace is afraid that she can’t pull everything off and briefly mentions steel shutters on the windows as if that’s typical. Her fear is unmistakable, but the reader is still left in the dark: what is there to fear, given Grace’s beautiful life?

Grace recalls the time that she met Jack and fell head over heels immediately. She was visiting her favorite park with her 17-year-old sister, Millie, who has Down Syndrome. A band was playing, and Millie wanted to dance, but after entertaining her sister for a little, Grace began to feel embarrassed because she felt the park-goers staring and growing annoyed.

Suddenly, a well-dressed and handsome gentleman stepped in and began dancing with Millie. This man, who introduced himself as Jack, won Grace over right away because of his sensitivity, his charm, and how well he did with Millie. Jack, a well-established lawyer who defended battered women, seems to be the key to a happy and comfortable life for Grace and her sister.

Jack and Grace married six months later and started to plan for their future together. At the time, Grace was especially fond of his willingness to care for Millie. Jack even planned to have Millie move in with them after her stay at her current school was up, since she couldn’t live there once she turned 18. Grace and Millie’s parents never really wanted children, let alone one with a disability. They have no desire to care for Millie, and Grace will do anything in her power to stay close with her sister, so Jack’s offer came as a huge relief.

Her relief fades fast, however, on a trip to Thailand with Jack. He sits her down and comes clean: he’s actually a psychopath.

Jack delves into a story about how his father kept his mother as a slave and tortured her. His father let him take turns beating her, too, until he accidentally beat her to death. After blaming the murder on his father, he went on to establish himself and build a life that would allow him to follow in his father’s footsteps. His sadistic tendencies led him to a career helping battered women, since he loved hearing the detailed stories of their abuse. He tells his new wife that she’s now his slave, and completely hopeless, Grace complies.

Grace becomes entirely submissive to her husband’s abuse, even while on vacation in Thailand. While he ventures out, she remains locked out on the balcony. When Grace hears a voice, she begs for help, only to discover that it was Jack all along and he was tricking her for his own entertainment.

Jack forces Grace to quit her job and remain home all the time. He limits all of her social interaction until it is absolutely necessary, and when they entertain, she must be on her best behavior. He makes her cancel all plans with friends and solely allows her to communicate with them via email, which has to be supervised. Jack even kills their family dog and forces her to bury it.

Grace receives a book from her neighbor, Esther. Inside is a hidden note asking if she’s in trouble and needs help, but Grace fears it’s Jack playing another trick, so she remains his slave. She is locked in a room with no windows, no television, and no radio. Jack even forces her to paint graphic paintings of tortured women to hang downstairs in “Millie’s Room.” If she fights back, he starves her.

Grace comes to realize that Jack wants Millie to move in so badly because she is the perfect victim for him, since she is helpless as it is. Her room is in the basement, with its walls painted red and covered in gruesome paintings. There’s a cage in the middle and absolutely no ventilation, so that whoever stays down there faces an imminent death. Grace feels the ticking deadline of Millie’s arrival, but can’t comprehend how to end the abuse and escape, until Millie herself offers help.

Despite being mentally handicapped, Millie is aware of just how terrible of a person Jack is. She persuades Jack to let Grace into the bathroom to help her, where she slips her a handful of stolen sleeping pills. Millie tells Grace that Jack is bad, and she has to kill him.

Grace takes advantage of Jack one night, when he’s overworked and overwhelmed, by offering him a glass of whisky, which is drugged with the pills Millie gave her. The drugs knock him out just enough to the point that Grace gets him downstairs to Millie’s room. She locks him in the cage and leaves on their next planned trip to Thailand.

Grace, with no one to turn to besides her sister Millie, confides in Esther and asks her advice on getting away with the murder she’s committed. However, Jack’s body is found, and his death is ruled a suicide, despite dying from dehydration in the cage rather than an overdose of sleeping pills.