Behind Closed Doors: Elizabeth Haynes

Behind Closed Doors from British author Elizabeth Haynes takes a look at the fallout of a crime that occurred ten years earlier. Fifteen year old Scarlett Rainsford was on holiday in Greece with her thirteen year old sister, Juliette and her parents when she disappeared. DCI Louisa (Lou) Smith, ten years before back in 2003, early in her career, was one part of the team investigating the girl’s disappearance, and at the time there was a theory–never proved–that Scarlett’s parents were somehow involved in her disappearance. The strange family dynamic and the father’s bizarre behaviour led the police to think that perhaps the parents had killed Scarlett, so initially the search was for a body. Lou had “always expected to hear” about Scarlett again one day, but it’s an unsolved case that rankled even after all these years. Here’s Lou discussing the case:

“Didn’t feel right. I know that’s easy to say with hindsight. The family was odd–Scarlett’s sister was monosyllabic, hostile at first; the father was polite, helpful as far as it went. When the mother came back she was in a bad state emotionally.” “What happened with the Greeks?” “It was pretty chaotic. One minute they wanted our help, the next they didn’t. They told us some bits and left out other important things. They thought straight away that she had been killed and disposed of. Somehow the investigators who went out there got the impression that had evidence that she’d been killed, some forensics–but there was nothing like that. For a couple of days we were looking for a body when we should have been checking the ports.” “To be honest, we all thought it was the Dad.”

Now ten years later, the Rainsford family (and their sole daughter) are on holiday once again–Spain this time–when they are given the news that Scarlett has been found working in a brothel in their hometown of Briarstone. Lou discovers that Scarlett, who obviously in hindsight wasn’t murdered, wasn’t a runaway either. As a 15-year-old troubled teen, she was very vulnerable and fell for a local Greek boy, but when a secret meeting failed to take place, Scarlett was smuggled out of the country by human traffickers. Behind closed doorsElizabeth Haynes’s crime novel moves through three narrative voices moving backwards and forwards in time with Scarlett’s terrible story unfolding and alternating with the current investigation. The murder case from Under a Silent Moon (the first in the Briarstone series) is mentioned frequently–along with various characters from the first novel, so there’s some back story here that readers should be aware of. Scarlett’s horrific story is gripping, and so gripping that this works against the novel when chapters flip from Scarlett to the chapters narrated by Lou and Sam. Maintaining momentum through multiple narrative voices is a challenge which is not met here. There was too much fluff with Lou’s love life and the inserted reports were distracting. Nothing could match Scarlett’s story for readability. In the creation of Scarlett, the author shows impressive depth for not only does she tackle a very real social problem, but she faces prostitution head-on in all of its ugliness–even addressing the red-light district of Amsterdam where prostitution is legal.

Did they genuinely think she was here through choice? That she would choose to sit in a window in her underwear, on display, waiting for the next ugly, filthy, sexually inadequate bastard to come and use her body? Why did none of them ever stop to think about it, about the hideousness of it all, of what they were doing? How could this ever ever be right?

But here’s what she has been told to tell customers:

“I came here because I always wanted to do this,” she recited, trying to keep her voice light, knowing it sounded flat. “I always wanted to make people happy. You see, I have an insanely high sex drive. I need to fuck guys all the time or else I feel sad. So this is the perfect job for me.”

It’s with the character of Scarlett that Elizabeth Haynes takes some bold chances and succeeds in examining the deeper psychological aspects behind the case. Here’s a now 25 year old woman who was kidnapped and sold into a life of prostitution at age 15.  At one point, Scarlett is being interviewed by the police and they seem amazed that she doesn’t know more about the men who moved her around Europe or the apartments she was kept in. By alternating the investigation with Scarlett’s story, we see how the police fail to grasp the abysmal conditions and imprisonment Scarlett has endured along with the inevitable crushing of any hope of escape that she may have tried to hold onto. At one point, Scarlett says she was told she was in a specific country but she really doesn’t know that for certain–after all she only sees four walls and the sweaty bodies of men on top of her. We accept her story while the police are skeptical. At another point, she describes how a girl being trafficked was shot in the head–one of the investigators wonders if Scarlett may be making this up and even questions if her tears are real. And this brings me to the crucial part of the story–at some point Scarlett moved from being a victim to being seen as thoroughly corrupted and part of the criminal problem. She is as objectified by the establishment as she is by the pimps and the johns. Because she is 25 when she’s found in a brothel in Briarstone, the police don’t understand why she doesn’t run away, but that’s the whole point. After ten years of this life, where do you run to? Who wants you? A young, innocent girl is stolen from home, but that young girl–while maintaining a strong character–has become an incredibly cynical human being who will probably never be able to trust anyone or have a normal sexual relationship again.

Stories have hit the news about real-life victims found after years locked up by some sexual predator. Kept in horrendous circumstances, beaten and subjected to the sort of physical, sexual and mental torture few could withstand, of course the big questions in these cases are: how can these people adjust back to any sort of normal life? They’ve been damaged, but at what point are people damaged beyond repair? How much recovery can take place?

I think, of course, of Steven Stayner, who was kidnapped at age 7  & held by a sexual predator. He managed to escape at age 14 taking another victim with him, but died in a motorcycle accident at age 24. In an interview, Steven, who had problems adjusting,  once said “I don’t know sometimes if I should have come home. Would I have been better off if I didn’t?” In a bizarre twist to this story, Steven Stayner’s brother Cary is a serial killer.

But back to our story of a 15 year old girl who is tricked into a life of prostitution and then rescued 10 years later. Bravo for presenting Scarlett’s story stripped of any prostitution mythology, and bravo again to the author for tackling some important social issues. Unfortunately, Scarlett’s story was so effective, so gripping that the rest of the novel couldn’t compare in readability.

Thanks to Caroline for directing me towards Elizabeth Haynes in the first place with her review of Into the Darkest Corner

Review copy

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18 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Haynes Elizabeth

18 responses to “Behind Closed Doors: Elizabeth Haynes

  1. I really liked Elizabeth Haynes’s debut novel with its convincing description of OCD, and I’ve been meaning to get back to her books ever since. Sometimes authors write faster than I read, I can barely keep up (admittedly, because my TBR pile is out of control).

  2. Especially true when you have a lot of writers you try and follow.

  3. The beginning of the story reminds me of this British little girl who disappeared when she was on holiday, it was in Portugal, I think. Does this story was inspired by this case?

    Tough choice of a topic. I’m not sure I’d be up for it.

    • I’m not sure if this is inspired by that case. I thought the same thing though.

      • The opening reminded me of the same case (and a recent British TV series called ‘The Missing’ which covers similar ground).

        I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your questions: how can someone who has been through this experience ever come to terms with it? I can’t begin to imagine how challenging the rehabilitation process must be…

        • Coincidentally I just started the Missing. It only took 5 months to arrive.

          • I’ll be interested to hear how you find The Missing. I had mixed feelings about it (better not say anything else until you’ve watched it).

            • I’ve got about 2 hrs left to go w/The Missing. The element I like the best is the way the programme shows how the case has long-last effects for many of those involved. You’d expect that, of course, with the parents, but a case this ‘big’ is bound to taint the lives of many people. I’ve got a few criticisms but considering I waited so long to watch it…

  4. Thanks for the link, Guy.
    I can understand your reservations but I think I might still like this. I loved the way she structured Into the Darkest Corner but here she seems to have gone a bit overboard.Will you read her again?

    • I read other short reviews from people who’d read all or most of her books, and the consensus seemed to be (from the ones I read) that this was not her best. Yes, I will try another. I liked the way she tackled the more complicated nuances of Scarlett’s story.

  5. I haven’t read this one yet although I plan to. I have found some of her books suit me far better than others – I didn’t like Revenge of the Tide at all but enjoyed the first in this series Under a Silent Moon

  6. This sounds so very powerful. It also sounds disturbing. How horrendous that things like this happen in real life.

  7. It sounds like Scarlett’s story would have been better as a stand alone novel, though it would be very bleak and possibly a bit much for most crime fans (and wouldn’t be a crime novel really I suspect).

    Shame the other elements didn’t hold up as well, but I can see why given how punchy that strand seems to be while the rest is more traditional.

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