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Alison Wonderland [Paperback]

Helen Smith
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)

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Book Description

14 Sep 2000
Having given up a boring nine-to-five job to become a private detective, Alison finds that most of her working life is spent spying on unfaithful husbands. In offices. From nine to five. Until Project Brown Dog. From somewhere on the coast of England, rumours arise of the sinister genetic crossbreeding of unsuspecting animal species. Alison is assigned to investigate the truth. With her friend Taron - a woman with a hundred-candle smile and a unique, if ambitious, mission to improve the world - she travels from London to Weymouth and back, rocked by a shocking discovery. Part adventure story, part dissertation on anything and everything from Japanese knotweed and psychic postmen to why women with great bodies wear the chunkiest bikinis, Alison Wonderland is a kaleidoscope of acute observations and comic virtuosity.

Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; New edition edition (14 Sep 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0575402628
  • ISBN-13: 978-0575402621
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 13 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,133,220 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Helen Smith is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, The Crime Writers Association and English PEN. She travelled the world when her daughter was small, doing all sorts of strange jobs to support them both - from cleaning motels to working as a magician's assistant - before returning to live in London where she wrote her first novel. She's the author of Alison Wonderland, Being Light, The Miracle Inspector and the Emily Castles mystery series as well as children's books, poetry and plays.

Helen Smith's books have reached number one on Amazon's bestseller lists in the US, UK, Canada and Germany. Her first book, Alison Wonderland, was one of Amazon Publishing's top five bestselling books when it was launched in the US in 2011. In July 2013, following the publication of Invitation to Die, Helen Smith reached the top spot as "America's most popular mystery author" on Amazon. Her books have been praised in The Times, The Times Literary Supplement, the Guardian, Time Out and They have appeared on "best books of the year" lists in For Books' Sake, The Cult Den, The Independent and the Guardian.

Helen Smith has been invited to read at literary events and festivals in London and New York and points in between - including, most recently, a cruise ship en route to California via the Suez Canal. Her work has been read or performed at the National Theatre, The Royal Festival Hall, the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood, Amnesty International's Headquarters, The Edinburgh Festival and The University of London. She's a Literary Death Match champion and the recipient of an Arts Council of England award. Her work has been optioned by the BBC. She's amazing! Please buy her books.

"Smith is gin-and-tonic funny." Booklist

She blogs at: Sign up here to receive an email alert when a new book is published:

Product Description

Amazon Review

Helen Smith's "Alison Wonderland" already has a strange life--what with her psychic postman--but when she becomes a private detective things get even more bizarre when she meets a man who loves a shig, "the fattest, woolliest animal on earth, the product of a union between a pig and a sheep". Being an investigator isn't all glamour and Alison often has to struggle to hold on to the difference between working in a boring job and being a detective working in a boring job. But at least it's not just the expected, run of the mill sleaze, double-crossing and corruption; there's also secret crayfish fishermen, lemon sweets and, of course, the shig. It's this mammoth animal that lies at the heart of Project Brown Dog--an investigation that Alison leads to uncover sinister animal eugenics being orchestrated in the name of commerce by a company in Weymouth.

This is the case that lends Alison Wonderland narrative drive, although Helen Smith's tentative, exploratory style sits uncomfortably within the adventure story set-up. Smith's strength comes to the fore when she's drifting, observing the incidentals of life; "the comforting smells like dog's paws when they wake up from a long sleep" and the rustling of voracious Japanese knotweed as it invades the pavements of Brixton. There's even an intricate Venn diagram sketched to ponder the sagging skin and drooping breasts on show at Tooting Bec Lido. It's this clean, seemingly effortless voice that gives Alison Wonderland an impressive edge and will make her second novel one worth watching out for. --Jane Honey --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Only occasionally does a piece of cult fiction leap out and demand immediate cult status. Alison Wonderland is one. This is a deliberately strange book, lurking in an indeterminate no-woman's land between the wave of "girlie diaries" and more conventionally eccentric thrillers. Bridget Jones with a plot, sort of.

Our eponymous heroine is actually called Alison Temple. Divorced from an unfaithful husband, she has signed up as an investigator with the detective agency that uncovered his infidelity, and spends most of her time working in offices, spying on other supposedly unfaithful husbands. The agency is run by a middle-aged woman called Ella Fitzgerald with a distinctly dodgy brother called Clive.

The plot thickens when she is sent on an investigation into the misuse of genetic manipulation to create hybrid animals, and strays into the path of secretive security firms protecting the programs. But this is not as sinister as it sounds. This is, at least in part, a "new girlie" book, remember. Alison is more concerned about the potential - or lack of it - of her relationship with a failed inventor called Jeff, who lives downstairs, writes poetry to her and eats her cereal.

The product of the genetic manipulation is a "shig", a giant cross between a sheep and a pig, designed to provide vast quantities of both wool and meat, and loved deeply, if not wholesomely, by its keeper. Alison's odyssey - all the way to Weymouth and back, picking up a foundling baby named Phoebe en route - is conducted with Taron, who has a "hundred candles" smile and an address book full of club-crazy, druggy friends.

In short, the plot is little more than a loose framework for Smith to give us her astute, pointed by essentially tangential observations on everything from tampon advertisements to Tooting Bec lido. Wry, witty and aggressively self-conscious, Alison Wonderland flirts with topics from heterosexual sex to lesbianism and single parenthood, feminism in a macho culture and male emotional vulnerability. But only fleetingly. A bit, perhaps, like the modern woman.

Smith is at the very least a minor phenomenon. Watch this book blossom in every office handbag. -- Peter Millar--The Times, 1 May 1999 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
My name's Alison Temple and I used to have this line when people asked me if I'm married. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
By Suzy
Format:Kindle Edition
It's not often you come across a book that is enjoyable on so many levels. I was immediately drawn into the story of Alison and her world. I tried to read it slowly in order to simply enjoy the wonderful, quirky writing. But-a word of warning: if you are expecting a romantic detective story in the chic-lit genre, this book is not for you. If you do, however, appreciate good writing, unusual plot twists and a story with a dream-like quality, this book will delight and entertain you. The tongue-in-cheek satiric element made me laugh out loud many times. I'm not sure what genre this books fits into but anyone who reads it is in for a treat. It's encouraging to see that unusual books such as this one attracts the attention of a publisher

Helen Smith is a wonderful writer and I hope to read more of her work very soon.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Comedy and more 23 Aug 2011
By AliB
Format:Kindle Edition
The genre is difficult to define - with elements of mystery, detective and a touch of farce, this is a book that's light in the sense of entertaining (as all books should be) but not so light as to be frothy and inconsequential. Helen Smith's writing is spare (which I prefer) but also full of sharp observations of character and of life. The various sub-plots keep everything rolling along nicely but my main interest was in the heroine Alison, curiously adrift in her own life, and in how her journey would unfold. I particularly liked Taron, a quirky side-kick who helps Alison to self-understanding. I was a little dissatisfied with potential romantic interest which did not seem to contribute much to anything - but perhaps that was the point. All in all a quirky and entertaining read with lots of comic moments. I'll be looking out for more books from this writer.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The surprising and the unexpected 4 Oct 2011
Format:Kindle Edition
I'm not sure if I would have picked up this book if I had been at the bookstore. I wasn't too thrilled about the cover, but the blurb was intriguing, and it was described as a modern take on the Alice in Wonderland storyline, so I thought, why not give it a go?
And boy, am I glad I did! This is one of the most amazing books I have read lately. Taken by itself, there's nothing spectacular about any aspect of this book on its own - but taken together, as a big whole, you're in for an experience.

My first impression when I started reading this book is that this is serious chick-lit (and no, that is not an oxymoron! And that's why the cover didn't sit well with me - this book could do with a lighter, quirkier, chick-lit cover!) Chick-lit can be light, funny, but serious as well and provoke questions inside your brain - exactly what Ms. Smith accomplishes with Alison Wonderland. The book is described as literature - it is, but at the same time, it's not dry, stuff-it-down-your-throat British literature. Let's just say it's a cross between the lightness of Jane Austen, the humour of Janet Evanovich reminiscent of the Stephanie Plum novels but with a dry, totally British twist that makes you chuckle loudly instead of bursting into laughter, all amid a world of suspended fantasy.

Let's see if we can elaborate on that description. The book and its plot is light - no saving the Third World or big reflections of the kind here. And the humour - British wit at its best. Anyone who loves British humour will dig this story (and there's talks of Alison Wonderland being made into a TV series - I say 'bring it on'! I can totally see this as a typically Brit TV show in the style of Being Human).

As to the suspended fantasy...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not my favourite but a quick, light read 13 Feb 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Starting with the good points this book is full of great characters, some funny one liners and is a quick light read, I finished it in 2 sittings.

Now for the rest- this book is a mixture of lots of ideas and it feels a bit jarring, in particular some chapters just feel like character profiles with a tiny bit of ridiculous plot sneaked in. Other problems were that although some pop culture references in the book were good and made the characters a bit more believable they were all over explained. Also when the narrative was voiced by Alison it seemed to have a much older persons phrasing as she is supposed to be 30.

The biggest problem I had though, in particular in the first few chapters, stemmed from the fact in creative writing lectures for fiction I'm always being told about the balance between telling your audience something about the characters and showing them through their actions. This book just tells you all the characters traits leaving you no room to draw your own conclusions.

This book wasn't terrible in fact I think most of the problems of it would be solved if this became a series as the character traits would not need to be explained again and the focus could be more on plot, however I won't be rushing out to read another.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Blindsided by Laughter 3 Dec 2010
Format:Kindle Edition
Private detective Alison Temple works for an all women detective agency. Most of her cases require getting the goods on philandering husbands. Neither fun nor exciting, but maybe a way for a little revenge by proxy against her ex. Then there's the big case she works for most of this book. But really, none of that matters. This isn't a detective story. It's something else. And I'm not sure what that is. It's a little suspense. It's a mid-life coming-of-age story as Alison moves between two distinct life phases. Last, maybe most importantly, it's funny. Not exactly comedy. Not really satire or parody. Yet it has some of each.

Smith's strongest writing talents are in characterization, bringing her quirky characters to life, and description, painting an easily visualized picture of each scene. Her subtle, yet wicked wit sneaks up and blindsides you with laughter. Fall down the rabbit hole and see for yourself.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars disappointing
Expected more from other reviews I'd read but felt book was a bit of a let down, especially the ending, which just dwindled out.
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Worst book I've read in the past year
I truly wanted to like it. The first 1/4 was okay but like others said- pointless. Unfortunately I can't not finish a book, so I wish I had never started.
Published 1 month ago by Julie
2.0 out of 5 stars Deeply disappionted
Bought it on a whim because of the name. Wasted good reading time on it. just cannot be enthusiastic about it.
Published 2 months ago by P R Ellis
5.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable book
This is an easy read. A great book for bedtime - if you can put it down. I will look for other books by this author.
Published 3 months ago by P
1.0 out of 5 stars I really wanted to like it...
Sadly I just kept waiting for the book to get going. I loved the premise, and the sample I downloaded but I felt the book never really got going and that I was irritated by the... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Lady Flashhart
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun and enjoyable
The overall style of the book is very easy to read and is something that doesn't require effort to read and enjoy. Read more
Published 3 months ago by drangelmedicinewoman
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome Surreal Novel
I have to admit that going into this book I expected more of a lighthearted chick-lit sort of story. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Christine Walsh
3.0 out of 5 stars Bizarre but amusing
I’ve got a few chapters to go but from what I’ve read (however confusing it has been at times) has been well written, engaging and pretty funny. Read more
Published 6 months ago by rachy12
4.0 out of 5 stars Crazy Fun
A genuinely funny laugh out loud read. A bizarre and occasionally dark tale that is incredibly well written - characters that are nuts but still oddly believable. Read more
Published 6 months ago by V. Doherty
4.0 out of 5 stars a nice surprise
Always judge a book by the cover I say, well not always. I tend to judge a book by the title actually - hopefully that's something the author has control of. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Stuart Harrison
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