Behind Closed Doors Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 59-page guide for “Behind Closed Doors” by B.A. Paris includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 25 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Good Versus Evil and Working Women Versus Housewives.
The 2016 suspense novel Behind Closed Doors, by B.A. Paris, is a story about a perfect-looking marriage that is anything but what it appears to be on the surface. The novel is narrated in both the present and past tenses by the protagonist, Grace Angel. These tenses are reflected in alternating “Present” and “Past” chapters. In this way, Paris builds backstory and current action into storylines that build in parallel and meet at the end.
When Grace Harrington meets Jack Angel in Regent’s Park in London, he seems like the perfect man—smart, kind, and even more attractive than George Clooney. He wins her over when he saves an awkward moment—dancing the waltz at the park bandstand with Grace’s sister, Millie, who has Down Syndrome. Millie had been dancing when no one else was, pretending to have a partner, until Jack came to the rescue. From there, Jack and Grace have a whirlwind romance. Grace falls in love with him because he seems to understand her attachment to her sister, whose care Grace has basically been in charge of since Grace was a pre-teen. Grace’s parents never wanted children and would rather move to New Zealand for their retirement. Grace will become Millie’s guardian when Millie graduates from high school in the next year; Jack understands that he will have to be a part of Millie’s life. His career as a top attorney (he has never lost a case) prosecuting men who abuse their wives also gives him the resources to provide Grace with anything she wants, even a brand new house, which she will only see after the honeymoon.
Things get off to a bad start at the wedding when Millie falls down the stairs leading to the registration office. However, they go on with the wedding without both Millie and Grace’s parents, who ride in the ambulance with Millie, who has broken her leg. Though Grace has promised to visit Millie in the hospital on the way to the airport for their honeymoon, Grace feels guilty that she marries without her younger sister present.
Later that night, at the hotel, Grace takes a bath and when she emerges from the bathroom, she finds that Jack is gone. After several frenzied calls to his cell phone, he finally texts her, “‘Don’t be so hysterical, it doesn’t suit you. Something’s come up, I’ll see you in the morning’” (72). His unexpected tone comes as a surprise, but Grace rationalizes his irritation, choosing to think that something has come up with his work.
However, the next morning is not much better. Jack is late picking Grace up for the drive to the airport. Then he tells her that they cannot go see Millie at the hospital before their flight, as they don’t have time. Pulling the car over, he forces Grace to choose between Millie and their new life together. Reluctantly, Grace chooses Jack and their trip. She gives him her passport and they drive on to the airport.
Once in Thailand, Grace gets to see the real Jack. She realizes that she has been taken prisoner by a sociopath. He tells her that the only thing he really derives pleasure from is pure, unadulterated fear. Grace’s new fear of Jack and the situation is a benefit to him, but what he really wants is Millie—a complete innocent whom he can terrorize to the extreme. Grace and Millie have presented the perfect situation because their parents are not very involved in their lives. Also, when Grace took custody of Millie from her parents, Jack was a co-signer on the forms. He effectively has control of Millie’s life once she turns 18 and leaves school. If Grace makes trouble for him, or kills herself, Jack will be able to emotionally torture Millie without any intervention from Grace. Therefore, she has to stay alive and figure a way out of this.
Getting out of the mess she is in proves to be more difficult than Grace has imagined. Once they’re back in England, Jack shows her their new house in Surrey. It’s a dream home with a garden, terrace, and Grace’s art above the fireplace. However, it also has a basement room that only locks from the inside. In the basement, Grace finds the puppy that Jack had gotten for her before the wedding dead from dehydration. He forces Grace to bury it in the garden. After that, Grace is forced to live locked in the bedroom upstairs. If she tries to escape, she cannot go to see Millie on the weekend. She is later forced to move into a smaller room, is deprived of food, and has to spend a few nights in the horrible basement that is painted top to bottom in red.
Grace’s only solace turns out to be dinner parties with Jack’s friends. He forces her to be the perfect cook and hostess, or else she will be punished. However, she gets to associate with the outside world. Though she attempts to drop hints that Jack is a crazy person, and has even tried to yell for help in the supermarket, she has stopped those pleas for assistance from the outside world because Jack has told the police and her doctors that she is mentally unstable. However, she still finds it comforting to be able to socialize from time to time, even if it might not lead to anything.
They also continue to see Millie about once a month. In a rare moment alone with Millie in a restaurant bathroom, Grace finds out that Jack pushed Millie down the stairs at their wedding, and that Millie thinks that “Jack a bad man” (164). Later on, Millie is also the one to come up with the perfect solution for killing Jack—sleeping pills. An avid listener of Agatha Christie audiotapes, Millie has pretended to have a sleeping issue, but has actually been hoarding the pills to then pass along to Grace. Now Grace has to figure out how she will give them to Jack.
The time is getting closer to when Millie will graduate and come to live with them at the house. Though Jack has shown Millie a lovely yellow bedroom (yellow is her favorite color) where she will live, he actually plans to keep her in the red basement room. He has forced Grace to paint portraits of the battered women that he defends. The depictions of the bruised and bloody women hang in the room, compounding its horror.
Grace’s opportunity comes when Jack loses his first case. Over time, she has gotten him to share a whiskey with her at dinner up in her room. When he comes to commiserate with her, his guard is down and she slips sixteen crushed-up pills into his drink. She runs and is able to lure him into the basement, and, dazed by the pills, Jack is unable to react quickly enough before she closes him in. The two were supposed to go on a trip to Thailand that night, and Grace decides to go anyway. When Grace tells her friend, Esther, that Jack wants to stay behind and join her in Thailand in a few days so he can catch up on paperwork and sulk about his loss, Esther picks her up and takes her to the airport. Grace waits in Bangkok for four days, feigning worry when Jack never answers his phone and doesn’t join her. Eventually, the police in Surrey find his body in the basement. They call it a suicide, though he didn’t die from an overdose; instead, he died of dehydration when he couldn’t get out of the room, just like the puppy.
Esther picks Grace up at the airport, and to Grace’s surprise, helps her come up with a plausible cover story for the murder. She even agrees that Jack waved goodbye to them from his study window when she picked Grace up. Grace wonders how Esther suspected. She says it was because at her birthday party, Millie told everyone her favorite color was yellow, but in other conversations, Jack referred to Millie’s future room as being painted red. Grace and Millie are finally safe, and Grace will not have to go through a trial. She is free to move on from her nightmare.
Editor’s Note: For the purposes of this guide, and in order to clarify which chapters are being discussed, all of the “Present” and “Past” chapters have been labeled with numbers; for example, “Present (1)” and “Past (1),” or “Present (2)” and “Past (2).”