Detective Sergeant Andrea Lawrence is reluctant to take this emotionally charged case, but she can’t help herself. In a small British seaside community, a fourteen-year-old girl has vanished. Sophie Monroe hasn’t been seen since she fought—loudly, miserably—with her stepmother and father more than a week before. But her frantic parents seem to be the only people concerned about Sophie’s disappearance. Everyone else just assumes that an angry teenager is acting out by hiding for a while.
Did someone help Sophie run away, or abduct her? Either way, Detective Andee is certain something bad has happened. As Andee investigates, two men jump to the top of the list of suspects—but neither of them can be located. And the deeper Andee delves into Sophie’s life, the more she struggles to keep her own darkest fears at bay—because Andee knows all too well what happens when young girls are lost and never found.
Random House Reader’s Circle sat down with Susan to talk about her inspiration and research for Behind Closed Doors.
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.