Andrea Lawrence had taken a wrong turn in life. She’d known it for a long time now—it was impossible not to know it when it kept her company like a shadow or stepped out of nowhere to trip her up with a reminder. It could even make her feel like a stranger when she looked in the mirror, or force her to ask herself what she was doing when right in the middle of something serious. The trouble was, it was too late to turn back. All she could do was keep following the road she’d chosen at a time when she really hadn’t been thinking straight at all, and hope it would all come right in the end.
But how was it going to do that when so much had already gone so horribly wrong? She wasn’t in proper control, was making decisions that even she didn’t agree with, and pride—yes, she had to admit it, pride—was making it impossible to back down. And professionalism was playing its part, she mustn’t forget that, since she wasn’t bad at what she did; some even said she was made for it, but she knew that wasn’t true.
This was what was going round in her mind when a tentative voice said, “Hi . . . I don’t suppose you’ve got a minute?”
Looking up from the case notes she was supposed to be reading on her laptop, Andee’s aqua-green eyes, behind the frames of her progressive lenses, showed impatience, wariness, reserve, until she saw who was asking the favor: Barry Britten, one of her oldest friends and, as of a year ago, a colleague. She liked him, a lot. He was honest, funny, direct when he needed to be, and sensitively discreet. He was also one of the world’s best dads to his adorable year-old twins.
“As it’s you, I’ll make it two,” she replied, removing her feet from the chair they were resting on and putting the laptop aside. Though she was a woman who rarely turned heads at first glance, a second look might arrest attention, in spite of her efforts to blend into the world unnoticed for anything beyond her presence. Each morning she strained her shoulder-length ebony hair into a brutal ponytail, unadorned by anything more than a plain elastic, wore thick-rimmed glasses instead of contacts, and, to her teenage daughter’s dismay, almost never used makeup. The way she dressed, at least for work, in a plain white shirt and loose black pants, invited no one to admire her slender legs or to try stealing a glimpse of tempting cleavage. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate male attention; in the right place and the right way it was welcome. It was simply that she had no time for those who seemed to think looks counted more than personality.
“I’ve just been over to Paradise Cove,” Barry told her, sinking into the easy chair her feet had freed for him. His normally merry brown eyes were showing concern; his mole-dotted cheeks seemed pale. Unusually they were the only ones in the Stress and Mess, aka the old canteen, which these days had no kitchen, merely a microwave, two-ring burner, sink, fridge, and temperamental coffeemaker.
“And?” Andee prompted, glancing at her watch. The thought of the workload waiting upstairs on her desk, and all it entailed, made her groan inwardly.
“A girl’s gone missing,” Barry replied, his eyes coming directly to hers. “Stepdaughter of the caravan-park manageress. Aged fourteen.”
Feeling the immediate rise of demons stilling her breath, Andee waited for him to continue.
“I wanted to tell you before all the fuss kicks off,” he said. “Assuming it does. Obviously it won’t if she turns up.”
Andee nodded, encouraging him to go on.
“Her name’s Sophie Monroe,” he elaborated. “On the face of it it’s looking like she’s a runaway. Her computer’s gone, and so are her mobile phone, a few clothes, toiletries, that sort of thing.”
Since taking off into the blue beyond either to punish or to escape parents wasn’t unheard-of behavior for girls of that age, Andee kept her personal feelings in check as she said, “Some kind of upset at home?”
“Things have been a bit tense lately, according to the stepmother.”
Stepmother. It was a sad truth that steps always rang alarm bells, in spite of the fact that they could often be the best of all parents. “What about the father?” she asked. “Is he around?”
“Yes. He’s blaming himself, says he should have taken more notice of how unhappy she was.”
Yes, he probably should. “What did you think of him?”
Barry shrugged. “He seems a regular sort of bloke, worried out of his mind . . . They both are.”
If the father turned out to be on the level, Andee knew, she’d have all the time in the world for him. She always had time for fathers who cared. The father of her children cared a lot about them, if not about her, but that was behind her now; she was moving on. “How long’s she been gone?” she asked.
Clearly expecting the question, he said, “They think about a week.”
Andee’s eyebrows rose. “So not that worried,” she commented dryly.
“Apparently the stepmother thought she’d gone with her father—he’s a long-distance lorry driver and was away most of last week. And he thought she was at home.”
“Didn’t they speak to each other during that time? It surely didn’t take an entire week for them to realize the girl wasn’t with either of them.”
“No, but when it did become apparent, they assumed she was hiding out at a friend’s house to try to put the wind up them, so the stepmother tried to find her. Then the father received a couple of texts from the girl telling him to stop looking.”
Andee’s eyes narrowed. “When was that?”
“He received the first one last Wednesday, just after the stepmother turned up at the best friend’s house to see if she was there. It seems reasonable to assume this visit prompted the text, although the friend is swearing she doesn’t know where Sophie is.”
No surprise there.
“The second text,” Barry continued, “was sent the next day. In it she’s claiming to be with friends he doesn’t know, so he might as well stop looking because he’ll never find her.”
Imagining how well that had gone down, Andee said, “So what prompted them to get in touch with the police now, rather than straight after receiving that text?”
“Apparently they kept calling her and sending messages, certain she’d give in eventually and tell them where she was, but she hasn’t. The father got home last night, half expecting her to turn up once she knew he was back, but still no sign of her and no more texts.”
Andee sat with it for a moment. “Do they know exactly when she disappeared?” she asked.
“They can’t put a precise time on it, but it was last Sunday night.”
Andee checked her watch again. She ought to be back at her desk by now, and as if acting as a reminder, her boss, Terence Gould—“Terry’s All Gold,” as most of her colleagues called him—put his head round the door. He was a good-looking man in a severe sort of way, with a gaze that seemed to cut straight through a person’s defenses and a bark that could be every bit as fierce as his bite. Though his demotion from a higher rank had happened before Andee’s time, she knew all about it, everyone did, and no one considered it deserved.
“Am I getting an update on these robberies this afternoon?” he enquired, his flinty eyes fixed on Andee.
“I’m on it,” she assured him. “Three o’clock, my office.”
As Terence left Barry murmured, “You know he’s got the hots for you, don’t you?”
Pretending not to hear, Andee said, “So your girl—Sophie, was it?”
“I’m guessing the force incident manager isn’t ranking this any higher than medium risk.”
“Correct. No sign of foul play, no history of abuse in the family—although that’s still being checked.”
“Has she ever run off before?”
“Apparently not for more than a few hours.”
“What did your instincts tell you about the parents?”
He inhaled slowly. “They seem pretty much on the level, but I’m still worried. A week’s a long time, and if it drags on . . .”
“If it does, it’ll be recategorized as high risk and you’ll get all the backup you need. For the time being, I’m guessing you’ve got the door-to-door enquiries under way?”
He nodded. “Of course. I’m just about to go back there.”
Andee picked up her bag. “I’ll come with you.”
Knowing what was on his mind, she said, “I’m coming.”
“But Andee, with your history . . .”
“Why don’t you let me worry about that? Just run through it again for me as we walk down to the car.”
Twenty minutes later Andee was at the wheel of her Ford Focus following Barry’s patrol car through the Waverley housing estate, heading for the caravan parks that cluttered the sandy coastline like an unruly crowd with nowhere to go. As she often did when progress was slow, she surveyed her surroundings and reflected to herself how like a library the world was. Each house, office, shop, trailer, car—just about everything—had a door, and behind that door, much like inside the covers of a book, lay a story, or indeed, many stories. They could be sad or joyful, embarrassing, shameful, shocking, or downright scary. There were weird ones, tall ones, short ones, incredible ones, full-on intriguing ones, silly ones, horrific ones, heartbreaking ones, and sometimes desperately tragic ones.
More often than not she found herself involved in the last few.
Flipping down the sun visor as they turned onto Wermers Road, home to the retail superstores that were on the edge of Kesterly-on-Sea, she ignored the fact that she was supposed to be investigating a series of robberies here and turned her thoughts to Sophie Monroe instead. She began painting a happy picture for herself of how this chapter of Sophie’s story was going to end. Wherever she was hiding, she’d soon get lonely, hungry, cold, and frightened, and she’d make contact with her parents. They’d then go to pick her up from wherever she was and all would be forgiven and, if not forgotten, then at least put aside for the time being as they all tried again.
This was the denouement Andee and her colleagues most frequently encountered when it came to teenage runaways, though Andee was personally and painfully aware that not all families were quite so lucky when a child disappeared.
Hers was amongst those who’d not been blessed.
Perryman’s Cove, known locally as Paradise Cove or simply the Cove, was an area of Kesterly-on-Sea she hadn’t visited since she was a child, and by the look of it, as they approached through Waverley, it hadn’t changed all that much. Perhaps a few dozen more houses on the surrounding estate, most sprouting satellite dishes like some sort of fungal outbreak, or signs proclaiming themselves B&Bs, or guest houses, or family-run hotels with sea views.
Sea views, from here? Give me a break! Sure, if you happened to be a seagull or a pilot, or if you were zooming in via Google Earth, but in these parts you were lucky to spot the sea from the beach, never mind from a mile inland.
Taking a right turn at Giddings roundabout, she kept behind Barry as they inched with the traffic through a tangle of scrubland and copses, past the Fisherman’s Arms and Albert’s donkey retreat, until they were plunging into the coast’s glittering, flashing, throbbing mayhem of a holiday resort—Kesterly’s answer to Vegas.
She smiled inwardly as a wave of nostalgia swept her straight back to her childhood. Though she hadn’t come here often, four or five times maybe, and never to stay in one of the caravan parks (worse luck), the sudden thrust back in time to those heady, hot summer days was having quite an effect on her. It was suddenly all too easy to remember how she, her sister, Penny, and their cousin Frank used to sneak out of their grandparents’ house up on the headland and cycle full speed down to the grassy sand dunes of the Cove, where they’d abandon their bikes, never thinking for a minute they might be stolen (and they never were). Once in the Cove they hardly knew what to do first, they were so excited: hit the funfair to ride the Octopus, or shoot ducks, or bump round the dodgems, or stay on the beach to trot up and down on donkeys called Fred or Floss—or Frank, which they’d found totally hilarious. An ass named after Frank! The biggest thrill of all was going in search of new friends in the holiday parks who were visiting from all over the country. How they used to envy those kids being able to spend a whole two weeks in a caravan.
As she rounded the first bend past an old shack calling itself Saucy Spicy Ribs, a crazy-golf course, and a crowded café, her memories became so clear she could almost taste the candy floss and toffee apples of bygone years and hear the squawk of Punch and Judy. Certainly she could smell fish and chips, and the blare of music punctuated by shrieks, bells, sirens, and laughter seemed almost as thrilling with the memory doors open as it had in reality over twenty-five years ago.
How could she have been back in Kesterly for more than a year without coming here once? She knew her kids had been down, probably more often than they told her, but though she passed the place almost daily, generally out on the ring road on her way to the notorious Temple Fields estate, or to the motorway if she was heading further afield, surprisingly nothing had brought her here.
“Wouldn’t it be brilliant to live in this place all the time?” Frank used to gasp during their escapades, when they’d help their new friends tote huge urns of water back to their caravans for washing or cooking. If it rained, they’d play snap or old maid or spoons, all snugged up in the cozy banquettes of someone’s holiday home, or go to watch a magician, a fire-eater, or a clown with cute dogs at one of the entertainment centers. (It turned out their grandparents had always known where they were, and since the world had been a rather different place back then, they’d trusted the stallholders, park managers, and various other adults to keep a watchful eye on the adventurers.)
It was hard to imagine allowing young children such freedoms today. In fact, Andee would rather not try, given how many more predators seemed to be out there now. As far as she was aware, though, there had never been any trouble, or certainly none of that sort, in Paradise Cove.
Which brought her back to Sophie Monroe and exactly who the mysterious friends she’d mentioned in a text might be.
Passing three banners for Eli Morrow’s Daredevil Show (tonight at 6:30, they proclaimed) and a huge blue elephant inviting all takers to eat as much they could for a fiver, she followed Barry into the recessed entry of Blue Ocean Holiday Park. Had she been told it was called Golden Beach, she’d have known exactly where it was, but it had apparently changed names since her day.
It had also, she noticed as they drove under what appeared to be a permanently upright security barrier, acquired some fancier caravans than those she remembered, and a rather quaint redbrick bungalow near the entrance that, she knew from Barry, was home to the manager, Heidi Monroe, and her family.
Pulling into a reserved spot outside the dwelling while Barry and Simon Lear, who was with him, drove on to the site offices and entertainment complex, Andee turned off her engine and was about to gather up her bag when her mobile rang. Seeing it was her mother, she clicked on. “Hi, everything OK?” she asked.
“I’m fine,” her mother assured her. “Just wondering what time to expect you this evening.”
“Hard to say. Why, do we have something on?” She prayed she hadn’t forgotten her mother was entertaining; she managed to let her down often enough as it was.
“No, not us, but I’ve been invited for drinks at the Melvilles’ and I wondered if you’d like to come with me.”
“As your date?”
Her mother’s laugh rarely failed to make Andee smile. What a sweet, beautiful, courageous woman Maureen Lawrence was. How could life have treated someone so gentle so cruelly?
“How about as my significant other?” Maureen suggested, having recently learned the phrase from her grandchildren and been tickled to bits by it.
Still smiling, Andee asked, “When do you have to let them know?”
“Oh, you can just turn up,” Maureen assured her. “They’ll be delighted to see you.”
Since she was fond of the Melvilles, who’d been friends of her grandparents when they were still around, Andee said, “What are the kids doing, any idea?” Since Luke was seventeen now and Alayna fifteen, they were making serious claims on independence, so it wasn’t unusual to find out where they were or what they were doing after the event, rather than before.
“Alayna’s here,” her mother replied, “and Luke’s gone into Kesterly with his friends. Oh, I’d better go, someone’s at the door. Call me when you’re on your way. And Alayna said please don’t forget to buy her a strapless bra at M&S—she needs it for tomorrow night.” Adding an habitual “Love you,” she rang off.
After texting Alayna for confirmation of her bra size, Andee dropped her phone back into her bag and checked that her Airwave radio was on before getting out of the car. She had got no further than opening the door when her mobile rang again.
This time it was Graeme, the antique dealer she’d recently started seeing. She felt a pleasing warmth swell inside her as she clicked on. “Hi, how are you?” she asked.
“The short answer is fine,” he replied, his tone lilting with the humor that had attracted her to him in the first place. “The long one is that I’m in a hurry to get back.”
“But I thought you loved Italy.”
“I do, and I’m still hopeful that the next time I’m here you’ll be with me. As you’re not at the moment, I’m finding myself rather keen to get home to Kesterly.”
Though she was pleased by the words, she couldn’t help wondering if they were moving too fast. But why was she thinking that when they’d had six dates and had progressed no further than a romantic kiss the night before he’d left? And she couldn’t deny how much she’d enjoyed that. Anyway, surely she was allowed some fun after all the heartache she’d had to go through. “Are you on schedule to come back tomorrow?” she asked.
Excerpted from Behind Closed Doors by Susan Lewis. Copyright © 2015 by Susan Lewis. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
A Conversation with Susan Lewis
Random House Reader’s Circle: What inspired you to write about a missing-person case?
Susan Lewis: I think like most people I am fascinated—and terrified—by the thought of someone I love simply vanishing from the face of the world. I have explored this subject in other books, and I imagine it will come up again in the future, since there are so many possible reasons for a disappearance, and just as many possible outcomes.
RHRC: In the past you’ve traveled extensively, immersed yourself in the social work system, and gone to great lengths to build context for the stories you write. What was the most important part of your research for Behind Closed Doors?
SL: It was obtaining police cooperation. The book couldn’t have been written without it.
RHRC: Was there anything you learned that really surprised you during your research?
SL: The biggest surprise was just how many teenagers go missing. Most, thankfully, show up sooner or later, but some never do.
RHRC: Was Andee inspired by a real person? Why did you decide to make her have such a special connection to the case?
SL: Andee is purely fictitious. I don’t like to invade real people’s personal stories to the point of such brutal exposure.
RHRC: Did you always plan for Sophie’s parents to be guilty? Why or why not?
SL: Yes, that was always the plan, the reason being that Andee wouldn’t want to believe it of them, any more than she believed it of her own father. The blow of discovering it was them tips her into a new and necessary grief for her sister.
RHRC: Which character do you most connect with or have the most sympathy for? Why?
SL: Actually, it’s probably Gavin, Sophie’s father. He was doing his best after his wife died and he loved his daughter unreservedly, yet he still managed to get things wrong. Sometimes bad things just happen.
RHRC: What was the most challenging part of writing this novel?
SL: Police procedure.
RHRC: In what way(s) do you feel Behind Closed Doors is different from your previous novels? In what way(s) is it similar?
SL: I usually write from the heart of a family; this time I’ve written from an outsider’s point of view. Having said that, Andee’s family is as key to the story as Sophie’s is.
RHRC: How does writing about such heartbreaking lives affect you as a person? As an author?
SL: It affects me deeply while I’m writing the story—if it didn’t, I couldn’t expect to connect with the reader. Many tears are shed during certain scenes, but I’m glad to say that laughter often gets me up from the computer as one of the characters does or says something I really wasn’t expecting.
RHRC: Is there a message that you hope readers will take away from the book?
SL: That even people who do bad things aren’t all bad.
1. This book tackles a sensitive topic. What was the most difficult part for you to read? Why?
2. Do you think Andee should have been removed from the case? Do you think she was a reliable investigator? Is it ethical for a detective to continue to work on a case that he or she has a close personal connection to?
3. Did you lose faith in Tomasz at any point? What triggered that loss of faith?
4. How do you think you would have reacted if you were in Heidi and Gavin’s position?
5. What do you think could or should have been done to prevent Sophie’s downward behavioral spiral?
6. Which character do you sympathize with the most? Why?
7. Were you ever curious about the robberies? Or was it a surprise that they were linked to the broader plot?
8. Did you suspect the parents all along? Were you surprised?
9. Do you think Andee should have forgiven Martin? What if they didn’t have kids? Would you have forgiven him?
10. In many instances this novel presents adults who maybe aren’t paying enough attention to their teenage children. Think about Andee and Martin’s behavior too, not just Heidi and Gavin’s. Are they allowing their children a taste of independence and adulthood, or simply being negligent?
11. Many characters experience heartbreak of some form or another during this novel—Andee, Sophie, Gavin, Heidi, Kasia. Which character’s shoes would it be the hardest to walk in?
12. This novel explores themes of grief, broken homes, human trafficking, betrayal, and more. Which did you find the most powerful?