The book carries out its whodunit duties—a shifting series of credible suspects, plenty of neat twists, a conclusion that’s both plausible and unguessable—with undeniable skill. Nonetheless its main interest, for Billingham and the reader alike, perhaps lies elsewhere: in the brilliantly realised setting and particularly in the richly nuanced character of its narrator ... when the solution comes it’s perfectly satisfying. My guess, though, is that what most readers will remember more intensely is the collection of touchingly troubled souls we meet and, above all, Alice’s voice: by turns funny, broken, chatty, defiant, bewildered—but always utterly convincing and compelling.
The book is full of pitch black humour with Alice’s constant commentary on her fellow patients and her glee at being able to flex her old detective muscles providing some unexpected laugh out loud moments. But as in the story of her name sake, who ended up in Wonderland, there is a dark thread running through the book not least in the individual sad stories that left the patients locked away. The result is a surprisingly funny book that also has plenty to say on the serious subject of how mental health is treated in this country and where it meets the law ... Rabbit Hole is a bracing lesson in the human price paid for violent crime whose ripples reach out and destroy lives far beyond the immediate victim ... As a reader you might not trust Alice, but I guarantee you will enjoy her company.
Author Mark Billingham gets almost everything right here—the character of Alice, who is by turns fascinating, pitiful and manipulative; the atmosphere of the ward and its grimness; the unctuous posturing of the staff; and the effects of the various drugs. Overall, the book is an effective hybrid—an absorbing character study doubling as a travelogue through a place that many of us find intimidating ... an uncommonly well-done book that lifts the lid off a dark corner of the world that we don’t like to think about. It also introduces us to a character who, despite all her inner turmoil and delusional behavior, we end up rooting for.
In Rabbit Hole, the complicated Al becomes the ultimate unreliable narrator, as she works through her precarious psychological problems, invigorated by the chance to use her cop skills, aided by her sarcastic wit. Billingham successfully makes Al both appealing and irritating as her anger issues erupt even more while the police ignore her theories. Al's realization that no one wants her to solve the murders shapes her character and her recovery. The novel expertly delves into daily life in a psych ward where drugs and routine rule over treatment, and Rabbit Hole's stunning finale puts a new spin on Al and the plot.
... [a] gripping if flawed standalone ... Humor, uniquely eccentric characters, and a convincing portrayal of the mind of a complex lead elevate this thriller above the ordinary. Only the hurried, implausible ending disappoints. Hopefully, Billingham will return to form next time.