While Blake was prone to becoming overly psychological and heavy-handed with characterization in his final Strangeways stories, like The Worm of Death (1961) or The Morning after Death (1966), he serves up a winning cast here. The staff at Wonderland are nicely delineated, whether between the slightly past-his-prime athlete Teddy Wise and his stuffier, more bureaucratic brother Mortimer or in describing the latter’s assistant, a resourceful and attractive young woman named Esmeralda Jones. Front and center amongst the holiday-makers are James Thistlethwaite, a fussy professional tailor who fancies himself a keen observer of people and places (and who may be right), and his energetic daughter Sally.
Sally quickly strikes up an acquaintance with a reserved young man named Paul Perry, and it is their flirtatious, hot-and-cold relationship that is both endearing and authentic. Both of these romantic leads – so often an unwanted and unconvincing element in mystery fiction – are deftly drawn, and it is their contradictions of personality that Blake gets so perceptively right. The two are (like so many young people attracted to each other) alternately cynical and sincere, defensive yet vulnerable, often generous one moment, selfish the next. In Paul and Sally, the author lets the reader feel genuine pathos for the couple and their situation, especially as it appears that Paul is Harboring a Secret and may be more involved in the Mad Hatter madness than he will admit.
For those wanting to take a lively holiday and experience the merry mischief vicariously, Malice in Wonderland is available in print and eBook editions from Agora Books. Les at Classic Mysteries and Margaret at BooksPlease have also posted reviews of this title.