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The Existential Detective Paperback – 21 Jun 2010

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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Two Ravens Press (21 Jun 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 190612051X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906120511
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 314,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alice Thompson was born and brought up in Edinburgh. She was the former keyboard player with post-punk eighties band, The Woodentops and joint winner with Graham Swift of The James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction for her first novel, Justine. Her second novel, Pandora's Box, was shortlisted for The Stakis Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year. Her other novels are Pharos, The Falconer and most recently Burnt Island. Alice is a past winner of a Creative Scotland Award. She is now lecturer in Creative Writing at Edinburgh University.

Product Description


If you can have degrees of uncanniness, The Existential Detective is Thompson's uncanniest – and best – novel yet. Private detective William Blake is hired by an eccentric scientist to find his missing wife, Louise, who may have lost her memory. Just as Freud's theory of the Uncanny insists that a man wandering around lost will repeatedly fetch up in the red-light district, Will's search takes him to a brothel and to a nightclub, where he develops a sexual obsession with a singer. (Nicholas Royle The Independent)

The story sounds complicated, but it’s not. In fact, Thompson shows she has a tight grip of plotting and, despite throwing away the rule book, The Existential Detective is as gripping as any potboiler. What does feel simple is the prose itself. Unadorned and mesmerisingly rhythmic, it’s extraordinary how deep Thompson manages to go; how many layers of mood and possible meanings she packs in with such an unaffected style. There are suggestions of several myths – Orpheus, Elektra – of The Magic Flute, and of a whole tradition of Scottish writing from Hogg to Michel Faber. Jack Vettriano gets a mention, and there is something of the mood of his darker paintings in Thompson’s writing. More immediately, when we get to the climax of the novel, we’re reminded of a very real, ongoing, Scottish tragedy. There is nothing sensationalist or expedient here, rather Thompson imagines and communicates the pain of loss and guilt, and the torments of being forever blinkered.

The Existential Detective is unsettling, unsettlingly erotic, and somehow sadly beautiful. Thompson is fast becoming one of the most original and formidable writers in the English language today. (Chris Dolan The Herald)

The Existential Detective is a deeply moving and compelling read, packed with mysterious goings-on and bloodcurdling shocks, all counterbalanced by the author’s trademark subtle and elegant prose. The story is intricately woven and Thompson wastes no time in conjuring up an eerie atmosphere that makes even a simple act seem loaded with meaning. Of course, it’s a departure of sorts for Thompson too, and she subverts the crime fiction genre with aplomb, breaking new ground while still retaining her distinctive voice. Remarkable. (Camilla Pia The List)

It is the novel’s unpredictable nature, as well as Thompson’s natural ability to relay what could have been a baffling story, that makes this one of the most interesting novels of recent years. The setting is familiar and everyday, yet strange enough to unsettle. There is a cast of characters that add to the atmosphere including an amoral scientist, some private dancers, a blind man with second sight and teenage tearaways who are sadly older than their years. Thompson has the ability to create vivid portrayals in a few pages, and although some of the cast only appear in short bursts, they leave lasting impressions and are integral to the mystery that unfolds.
(Alistair Braidwood Dear Scotland) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Alice Thompson is an award-winning, high-profile author with an international reach and extensive publication record as a novelist and reviewer; she is also an experienced tutor in both creative writing and literature. In the eighties she toured the world in the successful pop group The Woodentops; recorded three albums, six singles, and two videos; performed on stage and often gave interviews, both on TV and radio. This is her sixth novel. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By njr on 6 Feb 2011
Format: Paperback
The Existential Detective is very literary detective story, set in Edinburgh's Portobello. It's beautifully written with spare, elegant prose that doesn't waste a word, but the book is a page-turner of the first order.

The story is quite dark, with subject matter ranging over murder, prostitution, kidnapping and more, but is not voyeuristic and is much less depressing than the themes might suggest.

Although very much her own writer, Alice Thompson reminds me a little of Angela Carter (my favourite author) in her style, and perhaps even more of Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler's Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry).

The publisher (Two Ravens Press) has clearly gone to some trouble to produce a physically high-quality paperback, which immediately reminded me of Faber and Faber when I opened it.

Strongly recommended.
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By Felix 801 on 23 Oct 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I grew up in the crumbling villas along the Portobello promenade, so this seemed like a natural. Alice Thompson catches some of the character of Portobello, deserted midnight streets and a beach that isn't for sunbathing.
But I have a problem with this book and it concerns the subject matter although it took me a few hours to work out why.
I found the answer on the cover, which brought back memories of the real life and tragic summers day in Portobello 1983 and I still wonder why, only 5 years afterward Alice Thompson thought child abduction in Portobello could become a subject for pulp fiction.
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4 of 9 people found the following review helpful By mogs on 21 July 2010
Format: Paperback
A gripping read from start to finish. Good twists and a quite unexpected ending. Leaves you questioning.
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