- - Thursday, August 18, 2016

What do you do when you’re married to a sadistic psychopath?

Kill him. And get away with it. That is the solution achieved by Grace Angel, wife of Jack Angel, a brilliant lawyer who as a boy battered his parents to death and is now torturing his wife, killing her dog and planning the murder of her sister.

“Behind Closed Doors” is a thriller in which you will be on the side of the murderer and worried that she may not get away with it. The plot is basic. Most people know a perfect couple and most people may know a couple who are perhaps too perfect. In the case of the Angels, husband Jack is a perfect host in social terms and apparently devoted to his pretty wife Grace. He is sympathetic to her problems with her sister Millie who has Down syndrome. He buys the family a lovable dog called Molly. In his legal work, he defends battered women.

He also has built a room an the basement that can only be opened from the outside. It is a room without ventilation so that once you are locked in, you will be there until you die, and you will have nothing to eat or drink or even air to breathe. The room’s walls and floor are painted red and hanging on its red walls are paintings of tortured women. Grace is the painter and she paints at her husband’s command. When she disobeys him, he starves her. He equips the windows of their beautiful home with electronically operated bars. He makes sure the dog dies of asphysixiation in the red room, forces Grace to bury its corpse. and describes to her how he will murder her sister in the room of death.

Not long after they are married, when she is still under the impression that she has an ideal husband, Jack sits down in their bedroom in a luxury hotel in Thailand and tells her the truth about himself. How he battered his parents to death. How much he hates women. How much he enjoys cruelty. What she will suffer if she rouses his ange Her friends cannot understand why she never answers the telephone and never accepts invitations to go out. She is fragile and unwell and needs a great deal of rest, Jack explains, adding that her sister will soon come to live with them, a fate suspended over Grace’s bead like an ax. Grace appears to be in a state of shock for much of the book, and she is understandably terrified of Jack and what he can and will do to her and Millie. He enjoys her terror, relishing her fears and clearly looking forward to accomplishing the evil that is his only real ambition.

Yet the weakness of the well-tailored plot lies in the fact that Grace is an intelligent, educated woman trapped in a hideous situation and she could try to defend herself sooner than she does. Nobody knows what they would do in when faced with the menace that is Jack. Grace turns into an example of what a frightened woman can be reduced to. And when she finally makes the decision to kill Jack, she is overcome by the fear of failure and what that would mean.

Grace is lucky that she gets away with it. She acquires sleeping pills by accident and is justifiably concerned that she doesn’t have enough of them to kill her husband. She builds what is left of her courage to the point that she can convince friends her husband has disappeared while she is on a trip abroad. She carefully makes international calls begging him to call her back when she is clinging to the hope that he is dead. And he is dead. The triumph of the book, which should not be disclosed until it is read, is how he has died. It is also Grace’s triumph although the reader has to wonder whether she will ever recover from the nightmare of Jack.

• Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.

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By B.A. Paris
St Martin’s Press, $25.99, 351 pages

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