Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2017

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie – Kathryn Harkup

Non-Fiction
5*s

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!

mount-tbr-2017
 

First Published UK: 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma
No of Pages:  320
Genre: Non-Fiction 
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Weekly Posts

Weekly Wrap Up (September 11)

Weekly Wrap Up

Well we’ve had some rain to remind us that it is now the autumn if the way the night falls so much earlier (seemingly) all of a sudden hadn’t already done so.

Worthy points to mention – Happy Valley will be coming back for a third season despite strong suggestions to the contrary, the bad news is the writer hasn’t even started writing it yet!

What does everyone else think to the changes to the Shelf on NetGalley? – I’m not sure I like having all the books that are over three months listed with a count – it makes me feel bad, and some of these are because they were approved months before publication – it doesn’t help that there are so many on the current tab too. If I didn’t have my trusty excel spreadsheet I’d be very confused.

Last Week on the Blog

My week got off to a great start with a very entertaining author post by Caimh McDonnell, a stand-up comedian who has written a crime novel, A Man With One of Those Faces which I reviewed here.

Wednesday’s post included my upcoming foray into the world of Miss Marple – now I love Poirot but when I first discovered Agatha Christie as a teenager, I didn’t really take to Miss Marple – but when I heard about the Agatha Christie Blogathon organised by Christina Wehner, I’ve decided to give her a second chance – keep your eyes peeled on 17 September to see what I thought.

I also wrote a review of Camilla Grebe’s novel The Ice Beneath Her, a superb psychological thriller set in Stockholm, somewhere I’m visiting quite soon although I do hope I don’t meet anyone quite like the characters in this book.

On Friday I posted about the books I read in the 20 Books of Summer 2016 challenge – I completed 15 and had 1 DNF which considering how busy my summer was, is… ok – I will do better next year!

Yesterday my third review of the week was for a family saga, The Jeweller’s Wife written by the talented Judith Lennox. This book spanned thirty odd years and contained all the jealousy, greed, infidelity etc. that makes these types of books so fascinating. I felt like I was spying on the family through a window.

This Time Last Year…

I read the fourth book by Felicity Young featuring Dr Dody McCleland, who works under the forensic scientist Bernard Spilsbury, The Insanity of Murder.  Not only does this book feature a fascinating mystery, it has plenty of period details from 1913 the year it was set, including contemporary views of the suffragettes.

The Insanity of Murder

Blurb

To Doctor Dody McCleland, the gruesome job of dealing with the results of an explosion at the Necropolis Railway Station is testing enough. But when her suffragette sister Florence is implicated in the crime, matters worsen and Dody finds her loyalty cruelly divided. Can she choose between love for her sister and her secret love for Chief Inspector Matthew Pike, the investigating officer on the case?
Dody and Pike’s investigations lead them to a women’s rest home where patients are not encouraged to read or think and where clandestine treatments and operations are conducted in an unethical and inhumane manner. Together Dody and Pike must uncover such foul play before their secret liaisons become public knowledge – and before Florence becomes the rest home’s next victim. NetGalley

Stacking the Shelves

Oh dear – the TBR is continuing to rise with a rush of books this week.

First up my willpower would last no longer and I purchased a copy of Sarah Ward’s A Deadly Thaw – her first book in the series, In Bitter Chill having been such an outstanding read, this was entirely unsurprising!

a-deadly-thaw

Blurb

Every secret has consequences.

Autumn 2004
In Bampton, Derbyshire, Lena Fisher is arrested for suffocating her husband, Andrew.

Spring 2016
A year after Lena’s release from prison, Andrew is found dead in a disused mortuary.

Who was the man Lena killed twelve years ago, and who committed the second murder? When Lena disappears, her sister, Kat, sets out to follow a trail of clues delivered by a mysterious teenage boy. Kat must uncover the truth – before there’s another death . . . Amazon

From NetGalley I have The Kill Fee by Fiona Veitch Smith which I requested after having been thoroughly entertained by the first in this series, The Jazz Files.

the-kill-fee
Blurb

Do you know who that is Poppy?” asked Delilah.
“I do indeed.”
“So what does it feel like to dance in the arms of an assassin?”

Poppy Denby’s star is on the rise. Now the Arts and Entertainment Editor at The Daily Globe, she covers an exhibition of Russian Art at the Crystal Palace. A shot rings out, leaving a guard injured and an empty pedestal in the place of the largest Faberge Egg in the collection. The egg itself is valuable, but more so are the secrets it contains within – secrets that could threaten major political powers.

Poppy is once again in the middle of a sensational story. Can she solve the mystery before time runs out and disaster strikes? NetGalley

The Kill Fee will be published on 16 September 2016.

I also have a copy of The Two O’clock Boy by fellow book blogger Mark Hill – this is due for publication in ebook format on 22 September, paperback November 2016, and looks to be a hit!

the-two-oclock-boy

Blurb

TWO CHILDHOOD FRIENDS… ONE BECAME A DETECTIVE… ONE BECAME A KILLER…

One night changed their lives
Thirty years ago, the Longacre Children’s Home stood on a London street where once-grand Victorian homes lay derelict. There its children lived in terror of Gordon Tallis, the home’s manager.

Cries in the fire and smoke
Then Connor Laird arrived: a frighteningly intense boy who quickly became Tallis’ favourite criminal helper. Soon after, destruction befell the Longacre, and the facts of that night have lain buried . . . until today.

A truth both must hide
Now, a mysterious figure, the Two O’Clock Boy, is killing all who grew up there, one by one. DI Ray Drake will do whatever it take to stop the murders – but he will go even further to cover up the truth. NetGalley

Little Brown Books kindly sent me a copy of Death at the Seaside by Frances Brody to review ahead of publication of 6 October 2016.

death-at-the-seaside

Blurb

Nothing ever happens in August, and tenacious sleuth Kate Shackleton deserves a break. Heading off for a long-overdue holiday to Whitby, she visits her school friend Alma who works as a fortune teller there.

Kate had been looking forward to a relaxing seaside sojourn, but upon arrival discovers that Alma’s daughter Felicity has disappeared, leaving her mother a note and the pawn ticket for their only asset: a watch-guard. What makes this more intriguing is the jeweller who advanced Felicity the thirty shillings is Jack Phillips, Alma’s current gentleman friend.

Kate can’t help but become involved, and goes to the jeweller’s shop to get some answers. When she makes a horrifying discovery in the back room, it soon becomes clear that her services are needed. Met by a wall of silence by town officials, keen to maintain Whitby’s idyllic façade, it’s up to Kate – ably assisted by Jim Sykes and Mrs Sugden – to discover the truth behind Felicity’s disappearance.

And they say nothing happens in August . . . Amazon

And lastly this purchase is all down to fellow blogger Karen at My Reading Corner who kindly pointed me in the direction of A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup – how could I resist poison and Agatha Christie!! This is why I love book blogging, kind people pointing out books I simply must have… TBR, what TBR?

a-is-for-aresnic

Blurb

Fourteen novels. Fourteen poisons. Just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it’s all made-up …

Agatha Christie revelled in the use of poison to kill off unfortunate victims in her books; indeed, she employed it more than any other murder method, with the poison itself often being a central part of the novel. Her choice of deadly substances was far from random – the characteristics of each often provide vital clues to the discovery of the murderer. With gunshots or stabbings the cause of death is obvious, but this is not the case with poisons. How is it that some compounds prove so deadly, and in such tiny amounts?

Christie’s extensive chemical knowledge provides the backdrop for A is for Arsenic, in which Kathryn Harkup investigates the poisons used by the murderer in fourteen classic Agatha Christie mysteries. It looks at why certain chemicals kill, how they interact with the body, the cases that may have inspired Christie, and the feasibility of obtaining, administering and detecting these poisons, both at the time the novel was written and today. A is for Arsenic is a celebration of the use of science by the undisputed Queen of Crime. Amazon

PicMonkey Collage TBR

TBR WATCH

Since my last post I have read 3 books, and gained 5 so the total is now on the ascent again to 176 books!

84 physical books
69 e-books
21 books on NetGalley

What have you found to read this week?