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A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie 1st , Kindle Edition
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|Length: 320 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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Any present-day poisoner wishing to use some of the methods suggested by Christie will be disappointed to discover that even these underhand methods are unlikely to be successful, as increased checks and balances have since been put in place.
A is for Arsenic features the fourteen poisons deployed by the Queen of Crime in her various books, some of course were used more than once! She starts the book off by talking about Agatha Christie’s time as a working in the dispensary in her local Torquay hospital during World War I and her training to become as an apothecary’s assistant. It was here that she her interest in poison began and coupled with some inspiration of real-life cases many of her books featured some hapless person falling victim to one or other of her chosen poisons.
Each chapter starts off with a piece about the book, or books that the particular poison starred in followed by a bit about the discovery, chemical make-up and tests for presence of the poison featured. We then move on to how the poison kills, without I’m pleased to confirm overly descriptive passages concerning the symptoms which can be quite grim in reality. It is here that Kathryn Harkup indicates how Agatha Christie spared her readers too. For those who are on the receiving end of the poison, next up is any antidote or at the very least what your doctor should do to help support life while the body gets rid of the poison. We are then treated to some real life cases including Glasgow socialite Madeline Smith who was suspected poisoning of poor old Pierre Emile L’Anglier who came from Jersey because she was worried about him showing her love letters to her parents but instead stood accused of putting some grains of arsenic in his cocoa.
Despite the sometimes complex chemistry which the author manages to explain without sounding condescending but does so clearly enough that I could follow most of it, the book is for the most part pure entertainment.
I have to admit I really enjoyed the final part of each chapter which returns to Agatha Christie’s novels including the victim, the suspects and the potential methods employed to deliver the poison to the right person, at the right time.
Fortunately the murderer confesses, and even goes on to explain how the deed was done, the poison was added to Mrs Horton’s tea by one of her visitors. Arsenic trioxide is poorly soluble in cold water, but is much more soluble in hot water. By dissolving the arsenic in tea the killer was able to ensure that no suspicious gritty powder was left at the bottom of the cup.
I started by making a list of the books featured that I felt I simply must read right away, and then realised I would need to read Agatha Christie back to back for weeks to get through them all!! Well there are worse things I could be reading!
The author discusses relevant cases from the pages of Christie novels as well as real life cases. I was a little surprised that poisoning is actually a very rare means of murder. This is probably due to difficulty in getting hold of the poisons themselves, uncertainties over doses and other practical difficulties. Historic and modern cases are discussed. For example, the murders of Harold Shipman are discussed.
I would describe the presentation as efficient: each poison is discussed in turn. This makes for a clear but somewhat predictable format. One knows what to expect . However, this is a minor quibble. Overall a very interesting book that I can recommend. There is a good bibliography and recommended reading section. This is always welcome.
Each poison has a section to itself and the author relates the history of the substance and its uses, if any, in medicine as well as a poison. How easy or difficult it would have been to obtain the poison at the time Christie's books or stories were written is also detailed together with the ways the law has changed since then. Real life poisoning cases are also detailed. How the poison works and its chemical make up are also covered and I have to confess to skipping some of the more technical passages as I found my O level chemistry was not really up to the task.
But the chemical details make up a very small part of the text and not always being able to understand these small sections did not spoil my enjoyment of the whole book which is a mine of information. There are two appendices to the book - one a detailed list of all Christie's books with causes of death of the victims and the other one showing chemical diagrams for all the poisons discussed. There is a bibliography and an index as well.
This is a fascinating book for anyone who loves Agatha Christie's writing and for anyone who reads crime novels or true crime.
No doubt that the author has done substantial research though, and if you really want to know all there is to know about poisons, their chemistry and actions in particular, then this is your book.
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