This book was an absolute delight to read combining my love of Agatha Christie’s novels with a wealth of information about the poisons she chose to dispose of her victims. For any of my potential dinner guests who may be wary, do not fear, the author warns us off using the poisons she carefully and concisely explains at various points throughout the book!
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 – here is another warning about why you should resist the lure of poison:
But before you rush to take out hefty life-insurance policies on your closest and wealthiest relatives, or start growing foxgloves in your garden, remember that the drug is detectable even in minute quantities.
with comments from the side lines when things get a bit heavy:
The elderly spinster consistently displays a worryingly detailed knowledge of pharmaceuticals and poison.
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!
Finally as with any good
reference guide non-fiction book, there are notes throughout each chapter and a handy table of all the novels and the methods of killing along with a bibliography at the end of the book. What more could a girl, fascinated by poisoners ask for?
This was my eighth read of 2017 towards my Mount TBR challenge as I bought this book in September 2016, and what a brilliant buy it was!