Review - Alison Wonderland

Until became a publisher in its own right, I had not considered the online-retailer to be an author’s best friend. Its annoying ranking and recommendation system has also come under fire from readers. The recent launch of various imprints, aimed at publishing a diverse range of 32 books in coming months, will only increase Amazon’s market dominance. Its flagship, AmazonEncore, claims to use customer feedback and sales information from its sites to reissue “exceptional books” and to launch “emerging authors”.

One of those to be “rediscovered” is British author, Helen Smith, whose delightfully quirky novel, Alison Wonderland, has been given a new lease of life by AmazonEncore (it was originally published in 1999 by Gollancz). This is the first time it has been published in the United States and it has already hit Amazon's bestseller lists on both sides of the Atlantic, reaching number one in the US Kindle chart.

Twenty-something Alison Temple, recently divorced, joins an all-female detective agency in London, where she is employed to catch cheating spouses. But when her boss, Mrs. Ella Fitzgerald, assigns her an odd case involving genetic testing and animal mistreatment, Alison finds herself caught up in a madcap adventure. She is accompanied by her ditzy friend Taron and inventor neighbour Jeff, who may or may not be the next love of her life.

Smith delights in playing with plot and, along the way, various leads go nowhere. Meanwhile, someone is leaking information about the detective agency to the sinister duo Majors Flowers and General Bird. Deciding to lie low at the seaside, Alison and Taron embark on another mission to bring home a baby for Taron’s mother, who claims she is a witch and in need of an apprentice. At the same time, Jeff is abducted and taken to a secret chamber under the Thames. When the intrepid Alison sets off to rescue him, the three friends suddenly realise that all their lives are in danger.

As you can perhaps tell, this is no ordinary novel. We are, literally, swept down the rabbit hole of Smith’s fertile imagination where the ordinary and surreal collide. The threads do not always tie up - deliberately so - and one often feels completely disorientated. Not many novels can claim that distinction. The eclectic cast of characters is another of the joys of Alison Wonderland. I was taken back to the intense, sometimes incomprehensible world, of being twenty again – life is chaotic but anything is possible. If Smith’s book is anything to go by, I feel that I can safely salute Amazon’s latest venture.