Behind Closed Doors
After I finished Behind Closed Doors, I waited awhile before sitting down to write the review because I found it difficult to separate my religious objections to the book from the story itself. In the end, I’m not really sure I did. Ms. Collins’ stock in trade is writing borderline-lurid romantic suspense about the Mormon church. My initial reaction was distaste; the whole purpose of her novels seems to be to provide a sensationalized “insider view” to an exotic (to some) religion. While she sometimes has interesting points to make, she clearly has a axe to grind, and not all her information is accurate. And while it’s not really possible to separate religion from literature in this case, the novel isn’t exactly a tour de force either.
Jannie is devastated when her best friend vanishes without a trace. Melissa was her best friend growing up – the only one she would trust with all her secrets. Now Melissa’s husband Mike has called the police; Melissa is missing, and no one knows where she is. Jannie immediately goes to the search headquarters, a local LDS chapel. But when detective Colt Singer tries to question her, she balks at going inside the church. Unbeknownst to her very-active Mormon parents, Jannie hasn’t set foot in an LDS chapel for years. Jannie’s trauma stems from some very bad experiences in the past. Her former fiancé, Brian, raped her inside a church. While she continued with their engagement at the time, she finally left him in the middle of their temple marriage ceremony. For some reason, Brian has continued to be a close friend of the family, even though Jannie (very understandably) can hardly stand to be near him without suffering a panic attack. Though she tries to keep her anger at bay by avoiding church and working with battered women, Jannie still has many issues and feelings to work through.
Almost immediately, the police suspect Mike of killing Melissa. Jannie initially doubts that he could be involved, but circumstantial evidence points to his guilt. Meanwhile, her landlady is murdered while someone ransacks Jannie’s apartment. She needs a place to stay, and isn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of sleeping in her parents’ home. Colt has continually been on the scene, and he and Jannie develop feelings for each other. Like Jannie, Colt is a disaffected Mormon. She finds herself feeling more comfortable with him than she has felt in years. Although she is still in great danger, she begins to explore her feelings for Colt and her feelings about Mormonism. All the while, a killer is watching her every move. Can she resolve her feelings about Colt and her childhood religion before it’s too late?
From a romantic suspense standpoint, this book is a real flop, and the major reason is that Jannie comes across as simultaneously weak and reckless. Obviously, she suffered a huge trauma, but her complete lack of backbone where her family was concerned was pretty unbelievable. How about a firm, “Mom and Dad, please don’t invite Brian into our home. I am never going to marry him because he raped me.”? Her passive avoidance of the situation made it all last years longer than it should. Oddly, when it comes to her personal safety, Jannie is bold as bold can be. I lost count of the number of times she left after Colt told her to please stay put, safe in his home. She goes to meet Brian (um, duh, he raped you), goes out to investigate, and probably would have gone out to get a pedicure if she had thought about it. She practically defines TSTL.
Colt was actually the bright spot in the book. I surprised myself by liking him, probably because he behaved like a self-assured grown-up. He was at peace with himself, his family, and his decisions. He’s patient with Jannie, too – probably a little too patient, given her propensity for running off every time his back is turned. I did find it a little far-fetched that his first name was Moroni. It’s the name of a Mormon prophet, but pretty much anyone who named their child that would be considered a bit of a kook, even in Mormon circles. There are other names popular with Mormons that would have been more believable.
That brings me to my primary objection to the book, and its raison d’etre. The suspense plot and the romance are basically engines to showcase the author’s take on Mormonism. Anyone who is in doubt of her feelings need only read her blog, which is actually called “Trapped by Mormons.” Presumably, readers will get a little inside view to what really goes on in Mormon churches, and in the temple. The highly inaccurate artwork on the cover is perhaps meant to suggest this, though it’s obvious the artist never saw either a church or a temple, and wasn’t informed that Mormon women do not wear sleeveless dresses in either place (or at all). The book opens with a fairly detailed account of the temple ceremony, which Mormons consider sacred (and not a subject for conversation). Since it has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot, it’s clear that Collins threw it in there for titillation, and in my opinion, it’s unethical.
The book continues in a similar vein, and Jannie’s evolution into an ex-Mormon involves daring exploits like saying the F word (whoopee!) and trying an alcoholic drink. While she gives a great deal of thought to her past, it comes across as pretty simplistic. Every Mormon in the book is either evil, or a misguided dupe. And it’s pretty hard to tell where Jannie ends and the author begins. Does the author truly think that Mormon parents value their sons and sons-in-law over their daughters, and that a woman complaining of rape would never be believed? If so, that’s really sad. And it’s also more than a little unsophisticated. Religious people of any faith are different. They can be devoted, sincere, and loving. They can be terrible, hypocritical, and abusive. I would never suggest that all Mormons are saints, but neither are they all evil and/or stupid.
It’s obvious that I have more than a passing knowledge of Mormonism myself. Like the author, I am a former Mormon; I left my childhood faith relatively recently, after 35 years of active involvement. It wasn’t something I did either easily or lightly. While I won’t go into my reasons here, I think it’s important to say that I fully understand that there are questions to be asked about religion, and that literature (even popular literature) can be a great way to ask them. Some of the ideas Behind Closed Doors touches upon, like sexism and secrecy, are worth thinking about. In recent years, the lines between religion and politics have become blurred. I often struggle with conflicting feelings about religious conviction and its impact on others. Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the book addresses deep questions in any meaningful way. At its core, it lacks maturity, and I couldn’t help feeling that though the author felt she was “trapped by Mormons”, she was probably trapping herself through her simplistic viewpoint and inability to move on. Consequently, I wouldn’t recommend this book. If you’re interested in Mormonism or its adherents, there are better, more accurate ways to read about it. If you like romantic suspense, you’ll find better elsewhere as well.