Following a debilitating bout of PTSD, detective Alice is now a long-term psychiatric patient. But when one of her fellow patients is murdered, Alice feels personally compelled to launch an investigation from within the ward.
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.