Rabbit Hole
Date Published20 January 2022
Price£ 8.99

Rabbit Hole

by Mark Billingham

There’s no shortage of suspects when a death occurs on an acute psychiatric ward, but luckily DC Alice Armitage is there to investigate. The only problem is that Alice is a patient there herself.


Alice Armitage is a patient in an acute psychiatric ward, detained under the Mental Health Act. When a death occurs on Fleet Ward, Alice doesn’t think that the police are doing a very good job of the investigation, and she should know, as Alice is  - or was - a police officer herself. When no one takes Alice’s insights into the death seriously, she has no alternative other than to do her own investigating. She knows there’s a killer at work on the ward, and there’s no shortage of suspects amongst the patients and even the staff.

Rabbit Hole is a departure from Mark Billingham’s usual style. The story is told by Alice in a stream of consciousness that starts with Alice describing herself as if for a CV, and on her own admission, drink, drugs and a mental health section aren’t going to look good to any prospective employer. Her candid recitation of her own problems also casts considerable doubt on Alice’s reliability as a narrator. She very obviously has PTSD from a traumatic incident at work, details of which are drip fed throughout the story, but it’s hard to know how far Alice’s account can be trusted. It’s equally hard to know how anyone on Fleet Ward can be trusted.

Throughout the book I veered wildly between wry amusement at Alice’s asides on her fellow patients and the harassed staff and a feeling I couldn’t quite shake that nothing really rang true to the setting. Alice talks direct to the reader throughout the book, usually in sharp, often disjointed sentences, with jumbled words and observations pouring out of her as she tries to convince a former colleague that she can still bring something worthwhile to the investigation.

Unreliable narrators aren’t really my bag. I first came across one in Agatha Christie’s classic Endless Night, and it was a complete revelation to me that readers could be misled like that, but like most magician’s tricks, once explained they lose much of their allure. Used sparingly, I can take tricks, but now unreliable narrators seem to be dominating the genre and my tolerance for them is falling in inverse proportion to their prevalence. That said, the book is clever and immensely readable, and I was drawn into Alice’s at times almost breathless narrative, seeing the ward and its inhabitants through her sharp eyes, feeling her frustration and wanting her to be taken seriously even when I felt she couldn’t necessarily be trusted.

The sting in the tail wasn’t wholly unexpected, but as ever with Billingham, it was clever and well executed, providing satisfying and much-needed closure to a story that is likely to provoke mixed reactions.

Reviewed 29 April 2023 by Linda Wilson