05 March 2017

Behind Closed Doors

by Leigh Lundin

Paris — Behind Closed Doors
B. A. Paris’ Behind Closed Doors represents another in a long series of HIM— ‘husband is monstrous’— novels, also known as HIS, HIT, HIC (husband is sociopath, toxic, cruel) etc. They’re everywhere. The last one I read (and saw as a film) was The Girl on the Train. Both were recommended by my writer/editor friend Sharon.

It comes as no surprise that half the population devour these books with glee. The key to bridging the gender gap in Women Good / Men Bad literature is whether the author can bring the bad guy convincingly to life. Therein lies the strength of Closed Doors but also its main shortcoming.

Behind Closed Doors is the story of a woman whose nightmare begins when she marries a lawyer. Bad first move of course, but matters immediately grow worse, much worse. No matter how stepfordized she becomes, her situation can never improve but only deepen and darken.

I didn’t fall easily into the story. I wrote Sharon,
“I’m finding Behind Closed Doors … well, uncomfortable. 160 pages in, I keep looking for a place to grab hold, mainly a character to really like. It’s not that I dislike the protagonist but it’s taking time to reveal her. … The writing is a bit high-schoolish with godawful word substitutions for ‘said’. One I remember was “Blah, blah, blah,” he smoothed. But I’m trusting the plot will pay off.”
Eventually it did.

The part about ‘said’ refers to speech tags, which Rob Lopresti calls unnecessary stage directions. Fancy speech tags ‘tell, not show.’ In other words, if the dialogue is strong enough, a writer shouldn’t have to sit down with a thesaurus and tell the reader what to think or feel. The rule isn’t absolute, so we’re taught if we must use supplemental speech tags, to make certain they actually mean to communicate, to pass on words through talking. ‘Frowned’ and ‘smiled’ fail that test but it didn’t stop the author from employing them.

Right about now, the author is probably sticking voodoo pins in a Leigh doll ($5.99 at the SleuthSayers store), but bear with me, our policy is to write why we like books. Besides, this is a first-time author, so getting a book out in this market is a success in itself.

After finishing the book, I wrote to Sharon again,
“The payoff in the last chapter was worth it– I really liked how Esther involved herself. The writing became stronger as it neared the end, where her internal dialogue of her fear and hope takes over as events wrap up in Thailand and she rehashes everything in her mind during the flight home.”
As I touched upon earlier, characterization proves to be the author’s weakness and great strength. Until the final fifth of the book, I found it difficult to identify with the narrator/heroine. I’m ashamed to say I couldn’t quite decide why– after all, she’s a devoted sister and a potentially loving wife. Yet one gem leapt out to bring our protagonist into focus. As an artist, she created a large painting for her fiancé, literally kissing the canvas using differing shades of lipstick. That’s a lovely hint what she’s like and I wanted more. This is why I stayed with the book despite early reservations.

Behind the Door
Behind Closed Doors is another in a series of novels brought to my attention by my friend Sharon– teacher, editor, writer, my friend Steve’s inamorata. She analyzes recommendations from magazines, the Oprah Book Club, and featured reads from her local library web site. Of her choices, Gone Girl remains my favorite.
For once, I would have loved to know more about secondary characters, especially Esther, but as we discover, Esther isn’t merely a secondary character.

Unlike The Girl on the Train, the author doesn’t play around trying to fool us. From the outset, we learn this man who came into her life is one sick, well… I can’t think of a sufficiently awful word to describe him.

Paris has created one of the most evil antagonists ever, one who makes Gregory Anton / Sergius Bauer / Jack Manningham (Gaslight) seem like a maladjusted schoolboy. For someone who breaks a heart for enjoyment, there should be a special Dantean subcircle, but this fiend goes several levels worse. I reached a point I felt no ill could match what this guy deserved.

Shortly past the halfway mark, I began to see how this must end. The payoff was worth the trip. In approval, I sipped a glass of sherry, a special red from the Montilla region of Spain. Taste the story; I think you’ll like it.

11 comments:

Art Taylor said...

Enjoyed your review here--and appreciate the recommendation!

Melodie Campbell said...

No I won't! (like the story) But appreciate your review very much, Leigh! I'm getting tired of the naive woman falling for the evil man schtick. In fact, I am totally tired of the downtrodden woman story, not that they can't be good stories. It's just that there are so many of them. For me, no last chapter twist can make up for three hours of reading where I want to scream at the protagonist.

Paul D. Marks said...

Well, as you said, Leigh, she married a lawyer. So she should have known better ;-) . And she definitely would have if she'd seen the Amazon series Goliath.

John Floyd said...

Interesting post, Leigh, as usual. And a quick plug for the series Goliath--it's wonderful!

Leigh Lundin said...

Art, thank you. I appreciate it.

Melodie, I know exactly what you mean and often agree with you. We males bite our tongues a lot, so often cast as the bad guys. I don’t foresee that changing any time soon. In this case, the story line appealed strongly to my protective nature, which is why I gave it a thumbs-up. But yes, you’re right– there’s an awful lot of that tripe out there.

Paul and John, another Sharon recommendation, Goliath was outstanding! I binged watched it in 24 hours, which is unheard of for me. Episode 2 or 3 ended with a bang, one of those twists we didn't see coming. My only disappointment was that Stoltz departed this mortal coil much too soon. Every woman in it was interesting in her own way, carving out rôles and stamping their personalities on them.

B.K. Stevens said...

Thanks for the lively, entertaining review, Leigh. I can't say you've tempted me to read Behind the Door--no matter how good the payoff may be, the trudge to get there sounds long, dreary, and irritating. But you have (with some help from Paul and John) tempted me to watch Goliath. I may check it out, if my husband agrees. (He probably will. He's an agreeable fellow--that may be why I'm not more drawn to Horrible Husband narratives.)

Barb Goffman said...

We have a store?! I've always wanted my own Leigh voodoo doll. (P.S. Nice review.)

Leigh Lundin said...

Bonnie, way to go! Goliath is definitely a terrific choice!

Barb, I've been wondering where those sharp pains were coming from!

I notice the SleuthSayers Store keeps selling out of the Barb and Bonnie dolls. They're too cute!

A Broad Abroad said...

Johnny-come-lately’s sister here. With so many books on my to-read list, I don’t feel inclined to offer the author 160 pages-worth of my time just to get into the story. So, thanks, but no thanks.

Aubrey Hamilton said...

I very much appreciate the review but I will pass. My reading time is too limited to devote it to a book I can already tell (from your excellent review) that I will not like. Hence, one of the reasons I read reviews!

Jan Grape said...

I won't read it either. I can't stand down-trodden female characters. If the husband is that rotten then get a gun and shoot the bastard on page 75. Then give me the rest of the book about how to get away with murder or tell me a good legal story about how the trial goes. Just saying.
An added note: He said, she said is all that's need 99.9 % of the time. Good dialogue writing really needs the back and forth between the characters. Maybe a small action in between. Read Gregory McDonald. The man goes for pages without ever saying who is talking but you know all along who it is.