While I’m not sure that Alison Naomi Holt would welcome me comparing her writing style to that of a young adult novel, writing in that style does have its advantages. Everything is done at a slightly faster pace than an average novel, and it helps keep the reader engaged. There are no dull parts to wait through, no chapter-long descriptions of the characters’ surroundings: characters are introduced, the plot takes off running, and from there it is the reader’s job to keep up.
The Door at the Top of the Stairs is the story of Jesse Shaunessy, a twenty-six-year-old retired police officer who comes to work at the farm of Morgan Davis and her partner, Dr. Ryland Caldwell. Morgan runs the farm and rides as Master of the Myrina Foxhunting Club; Ryland is a retired psychotherapist. Jesse has a temper more foul than Morgan, and the two clash as employee and boss, but Ryland insists that Morgan keep Jesse on. Jesse, though antisocial, rude, and foul-mouthed, is a natural with the horses, and Morgan has a reputation for going through employees quickly.
One morning, Jesse panics at the sight of Morgan’s hunting whip as the club prepares for cubbing. Ryland and Morgan attempt to comfort her, but Jesse passes out; it is then that Ryland notices that Jesse’s back is covered with burn marks and scars. What follows is the story and struggles of Jesse, Morgan, and Ryland, as Ryland tries to help Jesse work through her traumatizing past, with Morgan enlisted as an anchoring element throughout Jesse’s therapy. Jesse’s ordeal is horrifying – the author is also a retired police officer, and one can only hope that none of the situations in this novel were pulled from reality.
All in all, this book was a quick, enjoyable read, with its fair share of laugh-out-loud moments as well as suspense. It was refreshing to read a book with three lesbian main characters and no love triangle! Jesse’s dalliances are always light and funny – a great escape from the heavier themes of the novel. The characters are engaging, and although there are some dark themes, they don’t weigh the rest of the book down. The Door at the Top of the Stairs is probably not light enough for the beach, but it should do just fine on a dark summer night.