Secrets Behind Locked Doors
Laura Martin’s Secrets Behind Locked Doors sounded as though it would be an angsty but ultimately uplifting read that sees both protagonists overcome adversity and deal with a lot of emotional baggage before getting their HEA. Unfortunately however, the author has simply tried to pack in too much to her story, so that the whole thing feels “under-cooked” and rushed, with not enough time given to the proper development of the romance or to the resolution of each character’s issues.
Our heroine, nineteen year old Louisa Turnhill, has spent a year in a mental asylum where she was sent when she refused to marry her much older guardian, who was after the fortune left her by her late parents. Prior to that, she had to continually fend off his unwanted advances, and before that, he was neglectful, so her life, even before being wrongfully incarcerated, was not a pleasant one.
Her new guardian is former army officer Lord Robert Fleetwood, a reclusive young man who is haunted by his wartime experiences and carries with him a massive amount of survivor’s guilt. He feels directly responsible for the deaths of a number of the men under his command, one of whom was his oldest friend.
Having received a cryptic letter which was written by his great uncle just before his death, in which he spoke of having done someone a “great wrong”, Robert tracks Louisa to the asylum and arranges for her release. She is naturally wary, and on arrival at his home, is reluctant to stay and tries to run away. But she soon learns that Robert is a decent man who has her best interests at heart, and quickly settles into her new life.
So we have not just one, but two protagonists who have suffered emotional trauma, and the principal problem with the story is that while this is an intriguing premise, there is just not the space in a 280 page novel to deal with Louisa’s trust issues and Robert’s guilt and resolve them in a satisfactory and believable manner. Louisa is naturally going to have problems trusting anyone again – the person who was supposed to look after her treated her abominably and then had her locked up when she wouldn’t do what he wanted (which was, sadly, not an uncommon fate for women who were perceived as “difficult” or “different”) – but within a day or two, she is lusting after Robert and they are indulging in passionate kisses. It’s not just that I’d have thought sex would be fairly low on the list of priorities for anyone who has been brutally institutionalised, and certainly not a nineteen-year-old gently-bred young woman – but trust takes time to build, and I just couldn’t believe that Louisa would be comfortable enough with a man she barely knows to act and think in such a way.
Robert falls very quickly into lust with his ward, even though he keeps telling himself over and over (and I mean that literally; there’s one point at which, after snogging her senseless, he “can’t believe what he’d just done” – about three times in the space of two pages) that he shouldn’t be kissing Louisa because she’s in his care and has just been released from an asylum and she’s got trust issues and… lots of reasons that didn’t seem to worry him BEFORE he kissed her. And they have known each other for two days at this point. I don’t have a problem with guardian/ward romances – it’s the speed of this one that bothers me.
Louisa’s adjustment back to “normal” life happens so quickly I could have blinked and missed it, because within days of her release, she is attending parties and balls and making her début. And Robert’s nightmares miraculously stop completely on the night he tells Louisa the truth about the event that has been haunting him for the past two years. I’m not saying it’s impossible – just that it’s highly implausible.
The story then basically becomes – “I love him, but he doesn’t want me” – because although Robert desires Louisa, he seems to want to marry her off to someone else; and “I love her but I can’t have her because I’m not good enough.”
There is a very contrived plot-point right at the end which was rather pointless and melodramatic. It was supposed to inject a little tension into the remainder of the story, but I was more interested in working out how Louisa was able to send Robert a note when she had left home without pen and paper on her person and didn’t have any money to buy any (or pay someone to carry a note!).
I’m afraid I’d lost interest in Secrets Behind Locked Doors by about the half way point and only continued with it because I was going to be writing a review. The author writes reasonably well, but the story lacks focus, the romance is based on insta-lust and the emotional issues facing both protagonists are pretty much hand-waved away. Needless to say, I can’t recommend it.