Alice Thompson - The Existential Detective (5 stars)

Alice Thompson - The Existential Detective

(Two Ravens Press)

When a work opens, as The Existential Detective does, with the lyrics to Pat Ballard’s ‘Mister Sandman’, followed by an extract from ‘The Sandman’ by ETA Hoffmann, you just know it’s going to be spine-chilling. And this is Alice Thompson we’re dealing with, a writer renowned for her unpredictable tales of the uncanny. So that’s settled then, we’re more than guaranteed a little spooking.

For her fifth offering, the Edinburgh-based author tries her hand at a completely new genre, and with the seedy bars and arcades of Portobello as a backdrop, she introduces us to William Blake, a private detective charged with finding a missing woman. But as the story unfolds we find he’s much more than just your average investigator, and as a result this book is so much more than your standard whodunit. For a start, Blake is led by his emotions and visions instead of cold, hard logic, and despite his protests that he won’t be drawn into the tale, it’s not long before he is piecing together clues that could only be about him. Or are they?

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.