Behind A Closed Door

Image of Behind A Closed Door
Release Date: 
May 13, 2024
Hampton Creek Press
Reviewed by: 

“Barker’s novel is a mesmerizing tour de force, from start to finish, full of surprises.”

Abby and Brendan Hollander are having problems in their marriage, so they go see a therapist, Dr. Laura Donetti, who turns them on to an app, “Sugar and Spice,” telling them that it will help resolve their issues and reestablish a loving marriage. They are intrigued, as Abby discovers it has received over a 106,000 likes. They download it, and it tells them that there are several levels of proficiency they have to move through, and along the way they will receive points.

As they proceed to go step by step, from the bottom to the top level, the tasks get more and more daring, and the promised rewards get more valuable, not least in financial terms. Some of the instructions are labelled “Sugar” and these are more benign, while others, those that come through as “Spice” tend to be way out there, and even though their inclination is to question these, they feel compelled to follow them. Especially these “Spice” ones increasingly lead them to perform more outlandish sexual and other acts, first with themselves and each other, and then with strangers. It is almost as if their free will has been taken away by the app.

Abby is shocked when one of the “Spice” questions she is asked is “Would you kill a total stranger to save someone you love?” With her best friend, Hannah, whom she has let in on the secrets of the app, she is nevertheless intrigued enough to follow the leads to spy on the total stranger.

Brendan, who has been working as an investigator of financial crimes, has been focusing with his team on a Chicago-based company, INTENT, that they believe has been a major agent in laundering stolen money through a bank in Laos. On a business trip to Chicago, Kim, his beautiful junior colleague, tries to get him to have sex with her, but he refuses. When she disappears, and the story comes out, Brendan becomes the prime suspect.

Abby, a published author, is working on her second novel, and Brendan is stunned when pictures of her in all kinds of erotic poses in her agent’s bathroom appear on the internet. Brendan’s boss and her husband die in a crime of arson, and the shocking truth emerges that she was the stranger Abby was stalking. She, too, becomes sought for murder, and the two flee.

Abby and Brendan become more and more entangled in this ever more complicated and dangerous web of life and death, from which they cannot seem to extricate themselves. They are pursued by a brutal couple sent by the powers behind the app, who have concluded that they present a danger to the app. Along the way, Brendan figures out that “Sugar and Spice” and INTENT must somehow be connected. The story moves forward to an exotic ending, but no spoilers. Read the book: It paints a world where apps—much as is feared of Artificial Intelligence—can take on a life of their own and present a devastating danger to civilized life, even as the initial intent is a beneficial one.

Barker’s novel is a mesmerizing tour de force, from start to finish, full of surprises.