A housemaid—a minor character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—investigates the mystery of her father’s murder in this fantasy novel.
Among the fanciful events in Alice, the White Rabbit mistakes the title character at one point for Mary Ann, apparently his housemaid. In this imaginative take, Thorson (Tryfling Matters, 2015, etc.) tells a Wonderland story from Mary Ann’s point of view. Her fussy employer wants to give Queen Valentina the perfect Unbirthday present, so Mary Ann suggests that her father, Rowan Carpenter, a talented woodworker, could make one. She and Rowan aren’t close—he believes children should be both useful and far away—but she travels to collect the gift, a mirror with a carved frame. On arrival at her father’s house, she’s horrified to discover that someone in a red tunic is chopping off Rowan’s head. Mary Ann is determined to learn the truth and get justice for her father’s murder, so she finds incognito employment and starts investigating. She uncovers information about Rowan’s business partner, a walrus, and learns that the mirror is a magic portal. She also aids young Sir Rufus in slaying the Jabberwock (“Lots of people teach things about which they haven’t the slightest inkling”) and in searching for his lost sense of humor. Mary Ann will discover more than one shocking truth before she’s done, if she can hold onto her own head. Thorson has a brilliant idea in mixing the world of Alice with a murder mystery. The result is a demented but internally consistent detective story—the motive, means, and opportunity make sense. What’s more, although tackling a pastiche of a well-loved children’s book is a daunting task, Thorson succeeds beautifully. She deftly captures Carroll’s absurdity, wordplay, and unsettling strangeness and rings some changes of her own. Here’s Mary Ann getting housemaid instructions: “So start with the fireplaces. Then fluster the moldings, massage the brass, milk the jugs, tickle the ivory and when you’re quite done with that, report back and I’ll give you some real work to do.”
An inventive combination of fresh storytelling and an adored classic.