Review–A is for Arsenic

Kathyrn Harkup’s A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie  is fascinating. Each chapter covers a different poison used in Christie’s work (in alphabetical order. I won’t mention how long I’d been reading before I figured that out!).

I’ve read a number of Christie’s mysteries (oh, I could say that all day), but I am most familiar through the Masterpiece Mystery series on PBS (if you haven’t already, check those out–David Suchet is particularly excellent). The way that Harkup describes each case brings those episodes flooding back. Her writing about the mysteries and the detectives is vivid.

First Harkup describes the basic set-up of the poisoning. Then she covers how the poison was described in the materials available to Christie. Next, she discusses how the poison works in the body (this part may be a little slow-going if you don’t have a strong background in chemistry, although I don’t and I followed along well enough (I would not have passed a quiz on that part, though). She finishes with going back to Christie’s story–without revealing the murderer–a thoughtful touch.

This book reminded me of Deborah Blum’s The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. In fact, I’d recommend reading that first as a grounding to the subject before reading A is for..., but that’s not necessary (although, if you haven’t read it, do! It’s also great!). So cuddle up with your favorite Miss Marple and a nice cup of not-poisoned drink of choice, and enjoy.

Who’s your favorite Christie mystery (I know, but I couldn’t resist!). Who’s your favorite of her sleuths?

BTW, if you haven’t seen the BBC’s adaptation of And Then There Were None, consider it. I thought it was quite good–and the cast was fantastic! It was shown on Lifetime in the US.


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