Review: Down the Rabbit Hole by J.D. Robb, Mary Blayney, Elaine Fox, Mary Kay McComas, R.C. Ryan

Reviewed by: Marlene

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland, which may explain the theme of this collection. And probably also explains the release of After Alice by Geoffrey Maguire later this year.

As most of us remember, Alice falls down a rabbit hole chasing the March Hare on his way to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and later meets the infamous Red Queen and those marvelous founts of puns everywhere, Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Alice in Wonderland is a marvelous piece of literary nonsense, that has spawned stories in multiple genres, not merely fantasy, but also horror and biography. (Anyone remember Go Ask Alice?)

The stories in this collection all use elements of the Alice in Wonderland story and universe in new and often surprising ways. I’ll confess up front that I picked this collections for the Dallas and Roarke story that starts the book, Wonderment in Death. Wonderment is #41.5 in the In Death series, and reading it reminded me that I have #41, Devoted in Death, on my iPad for one of these days when I need a comfort read.

Wonderment in Death is a great story for fans of the series, and might manage to serve as an introduction for those who don’t want to go all the way back to #1, Naked in Death, to see what all the fuss is about.

As the In Death series is set in a near-future version of our Earth, Eve’s 2050s are just enough different from our own time to allow that the use of pharmaceuticals and post-hypnotic suggestion might be a combination strong enough to get someone to hallucinate their way into murder. The technology that Eve uses to hunt down this “killer at second hand” feel like reasonable extensions of contemporary law enforcement tools and technology. At the same time, the way that people see the possibility of “sensitives” with some ability to mess with people’s minds is just a bit more accepting than today. On the other hand, Eve sees it all as woo-woo and wants no part of it. But hypnosis with drugs enhancing it is scientific enough for her practical soul.

This is a story about a young woman looking for comfort through speaking to her late parents, and who is, unsurprisingly, taken advantage of in her grief and naivete. While we watch Eve and Company investigate the case, we see both how they work and how they work together. While the murder is eventually solved, the murderer’s methods and the persona he has adopted owe a great deal to Lewis Carroll’s famous Alice. And in the end, the murderer is every bit as crazed as the Mad Hatter he resembles.

Mary Blayney’s story, Alice and the Earl in Wonderland, was cute but left me wondering what I’d missed. The story is part of a loosely related series of stories that surround a magical, wish-granting coin. It seems that some of the other stories in this series are in other anthologies that Blayney has participated in with J.D. Robb. This particular story, where the Earl of Weston and his once and would-be lover Alice Kemp, exchange places with their 21st century counterparts through the use of the mysterious coin. I gather that this story is intended as a mirror image to the story of what happens to the Earl’s and Alice’s 21st century counterparts while they are back in the 19th century, but because these stories have only been published in collections, I’m having a difficult time narrowing it down.

A goodly chunk of this story is in the culture shock of two well-educated and intelligent people from the 19th century finding themselves thrown into the 21st. That would be the “rabbit hole” that Wes and Alice have fallen through. And she’s Alice.

What they learn is that some of the strictures and mores that they have lived with will not matter a jot in due time, particularly the stricture that has been keeping them apart – Alice’s parents were divorced, which leaves her as a social pariah who feels unworthy of being Wes’ Countess. The 21st century goes a long way towards letting them decide to push society to accept what they want in their hearts.

There are three more stories in this collection, iLove by Elaine Fox, A True Heart by Mary Kay McComas and Fallen by RC Ryan.

I didn’t like iLove at all. The idea was good – a guy falls into his phone apps after his girlfriend breaks up with him because he pays WAY more attention to his phone than he does to her or whatever they are doing. Interrupting sex to text the office is just WAY over the line. Any line. But the world created behind the phone screen just went ‘meh’ for me.

And by the time I got to the last two stories, I had been through one too many animals into humans morphs with heroines with fainting spells and they just didn’t hold my attention. I guess a little bit of Alice goes a long way.

I give Wonderment in Death an A-, Alice and the Earl in Wonderland a B, iLove by Elaine Fox a D, and A True Heart by Mary Kay McComas and Fallen by RC Ryan DNFs.

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