2010; 250 pages. Full Title: The Secret Diary of Alice in Wonderland, Age 42 and Three-Quarters. Book 3 (out of 4) in the “Silkstone Standalone Comedic Mystery” series. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Florida Noir; Romance; Comedic Mystery; Epistolary; Not-So-Cozy Mystery. Overall Rating : 7*/10.
Alice Harte has a bad case of AIWS. That stands for “Alice In Wonderland Syndrome”. It's possible that the fact that Alice has the same name as the title character in Lewis Carroll’s novel reinforces her syndrome.
Bouts of AIWS can hit her at any time. There’s a cat with a toothy grin who keeps appearing out of nowhere, smiling at her, then disappearing just as suddenly. There’s an attorney in her life who’s a dead ringer for the Walrus. She meets Nigel, a charming English bloke on an internet dating site, whom she's sure looks like and acts like the White Rabbit.
Those are all kind of pleasantly loopy experiences, but other AIWS instances are somewhat darker. She’s been harassed by two big thugs, who she dubs Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum. Then there's Elizabeth, a crazy lady who sometimes claims to be Nigel’s wife, and other times claims to be his ex-wife. She’s must be an incarnation of the Mad Hatter.
Alice is being blackmailed by not one, but two separate slimeballs. One is her boss, Leslie Archer; the other is is guy who thinks Leslie killed his brother and wants Alice to provide the incriminating evidence. The latter guy’s name is Marc Hare, so it’s obvious that he’s supposed to be the “March Hare”.
But be extremely careful around your boss, Alice. He’s already threatened to have you killed if you leave his company, and he fits the role of the Red Queen. And we all know what her favorite line in the book is.
“Off with her head!!”
What’s To Like...
The Secret Diary of Alice in Wonderland is an ambitious mix of several genres, including comedy, romance, and first and foremost, a mystery. It is overlaid with the characters and plotline from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which is no small literary feat. I gather the book's original title included the phrase “Age 42 and Three-Quarters”, but that has since been dropped, probably for good reason, since the protagonist’s age has nothing to do with the story.
Amazon classifies this as a “cozy mystery”, but it that's one genre it isn't. There’s a bunch of cussing, a mention of “the clap”, a fair amount of pill-popping, and one on-stage decapitation scene. I’m okay with all that, but mystery lovers who limit themselves to cozies may be in for a shock.
The book’s structure is a bit weird: We start off with two chapters (a mere 4% Kindle), then the rest of the book is Alice’s entries in her diary, plus some e-mails and text messages. I’m not sure why those first two chapters weren’t also incorporated into the diary, but overall this qualifies as an epistolary novel, and I’ve always liked those. Both chapters, and each new day in the diary start off with quotes from Lewis Carroll’s novel, which I thought was a nice touch, and served as teasers for what you were about to read.
The book is written in the first-person POV (Alice’s), and recounts her adventures as she wades through the mystery of strange behaviors by psychotic crooks, a whirlwind love-affair, and a bunch of crazies as supporting characters. Curiouser and curiouser.
I liked the settings: London and Paris are places I’ve been to, so there were some nice tie-ins, including the Gatwick and Charles de Gaulle airports. Miami, Prague, and the Cotswolds were new places for me, and I enjoyed "visiting" them. I also admired some of the ways Barbara Silkstone contrived to mimic portions of Alice in Wonderland in the storyline. The handling of the Lewis Carroll Alice growing larger and/or smaller by eating/drinking various substances is quite clever.
The ending ties all the mysteries together nicely, and is highlighted by a farcical rendition of the Alice-in-Wonderland trial scene, over which the maniacal Red Queen presides. Once again, given that this book isn't really presented as a fantasy (with the exception of a Cheshire cat cameos), the manner in which Barbara Silkstone works the Lewis Carroll courtroom antics into the plotline was impressive.
“Nuts.” Maris banged into the door and leaned over my desk, her skinny frame bent in two like a croquet hoop.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I wanted to show you this photograph.”
I was about to bite her head off, but thought better of it. I had more to gain by humoring her. I was the ever-available audience for Maris Archer’s search for validation. Left alone, Leslie’s wife would probably disappear in an overdose of laxatives, folding in on herself like a black hole. (loc. 203)
“We all know you are a premature articulator,” I said.
“How?” he stammered, growing redder by the moment.
I had no idea what that meant, but it had a strong effect on the little guy.
“This court is going to find you guilty of fraud,” he said.
“Objection.” I banged my hand on the rail and looked at the judge.
“Ms. Harte, you are on the witness stand. You can’t object.”
“This man is falsely accusing me.”
“That’s his job.” (loc. 3185)
The Secret Diary of Alice in Wonderland currently sells for $3.99 at Amazon. Barbara Silkstone has about 50 e-books available at Amazon, ranging in price from $0.99 to $7.99, most of which appear to be structured similar to this one: mysteries with a one of the classics (usually a romance) woven into it.
“When you start drinking, things have a way of falling out of your mouth.” (loc. 2353)
There are some quibbles, but nothing major. Some of the events are a bit over the top, especially a couple of the romance escapades Nigel contrives. But then again, I think the action in any Clive Cussler novel is over the top, and you could say that about Lewis Carroll’s stories as well. The book could’ve used one more round of editing, and for some unknown reason my e-book highlights/notes from about 25% to 75% got wiped out.
Finally, for whatever reason I was expecting some sort of mystery set in the world of Alice in Wonderland. Something like the Knave of Hearts getting murdered, and Alice and the Cheshire cat investigating. Instead, The Secret Diary of Alice in Wonderland is set in our world, with a bunch of literary nods to Lewis Carroll added for fun. But to be fair, there’s nothing misleading about the book’s title or cover art, and Barbara Silkstone isn't responsible for any presumptions I jump to.
Overall, I enjoyed TSDoAiW, even though I’m not in the target audience. If you’re looking for lighthearted mystery story, coupled with a charming and humorous romance, plus an occasional severed head or grinning cat crossing your path, this book is for you.
7 Stars. In the “About the Author” section at the end of the book, Barbara Silkstone mentions someone describing her writing as “shades of Janet Evanovich and Carl Hiaasen”. I think that’s both concise and accurate. If you like those two authors, you’ll enjoy this book.