British author Mark Billingham (Bloodline; Their Little Secret) takes a break from his 17-novel series about DI Tom Thorne for his fifth standalone novel, which grippingly explores Det. Constable Alice Armitage's psychotic breakdown after witnessing her police partner's murder. Rabbit Hole charts Al's downward spiral with drugs, alcohol, casual sex and an altercation with her boyfriend, until she's given "medical retirement" from the police, then admitted to London's Hendon Community Hospital, suffering from PTSD.
Denied her request to be discharged, Al focuses on solving the murders of a patient and a senior nurse, but her help is rejected. The staff tries to keep her away from the police detectives, who don't acknowledge knowing her or respect her investigative skills. Once popular with the hospital staff, Al risks their ire with her investigation, interviewing other patients and personnel. Her own mental state, she reasons, gives her insight into her fellow patients' motives.
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. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer