Agatha Christie's detailed plotting is what makes her books so compelling. Christie used poison to kill her characters more often than any other murder method, with the poison itself being a central part of the novel, and her choice of deadly substances was far from random; the chemical and physiological characteristics of each poison provide vital clues to discovery of the murderer. With gunshots or stabbings the cause of death is obvious, but not so with poisons. How is it that some compounds prove so deadly, and in such tiny amounts?
Christie demonstrated her extensive chemical knowledge (much of it gleaned from her working in a chemists during both world wars) in many of her novels, but this is rarely appreciated by the reader. A is for Arsenic celebrates the use of science in Christie's work. Written by Christie fan and research chemist Kathryn Harkup, each chapter takes a different novel and investigates the poison (or poisons) the murderer used. A is for Arsenic looks at why certain chemicals kill, how they interact with the body, and the feasibility of obtaining, administering and detecting these poisons, both at the time the novel was written and today.
Please note: the difference between the £12.99 and £9.99 paperback version is that the former is a trade paperback, whereas the latter is a mass-market paperback (also see this entry on Wikipedia for the difference between the two).
1. Dame Agatha's Deadly Dispensary
2. A is for Arsenic – Murder is Easy
3. B is for Belladonna – The Labours of Hercules
4. C is for Cyanide – Sparkling Cyanide
5. D is for Digitalis – Appointment with Death
6. E is for Eserine – Crooked House
7. H is for Hemlock – Five Little Pigs
8. M is for Monkshood – 4:50 from Paddington
9. N is for Nicotine – Three Act Tragedy
10. O is for Opium – Sad Cypress
11. P is for Phosphorus – Dumb Witness
12. R is for Ricin – Partners in Crime
13. S is for Strychnine – The Mysterious Affair at Styles
14. T is for Thallium – The Pale Horse
15. V is for Veranol – Lord Edgware Dies
Kathryn Harkup is a chemist and author. Kathryn completed a doctorate on her favourite chemicals, phosphines, and went on to further postdoctoral research before realising that talking, writing and demonstrating science appealed a bit more than hours slaving over a hot fume-hood. For six years she ran the outreach in engineering, computing, physics and maths at the University of Surrey, which involved writing talks on science topics that would appeal to bored teenagers (anything disgusting or dangerous was usually the most popular). Kathryn is now a freelance science communicator delivering talks and workshops on the quirky side of science.
"[An] intriguing and illuminating examination of Christie's use of poisons in her mysteries [...] This compilation should please mystery fans, true crime readers, and lovers of popular science."
– Publishers Weekly
"This would be a perfect reference for anyone writing murder mysteries and is scientific enough to be used as a textbook [...] The addition of real-life cases and comparisons to Christie's works make this a nice little murder mystery of its own. Fear not, she's careful not to spoil the endings of the classic novels."
"Remember the homicidal glee of that old Cary Grant movie 'Arsenic and Old Lace'? Those adorable aged aunts, earnestly luring lonely old men to their house so they could knock them off with poison-laced elderberry wine? If you liked that, you'll like A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie; it has a little of that lethal charm [...] And while it's essentially good book-club-style fun, the book has a practical application: For every poison, it offers some antidotes."
– Washington Post
"If you're an Agatha Christie fan, read this book. If you're a forensic-science fan, read this book. If you know someone harboring a grudge and an unseemly interest in poison, hide this book. Harkup, a chemist, has written a knockout analysis of poisons used in Christie's novels and short stories [...] This is an absolutely bravura chemical compound."
– starred review, Booklist
"You don't have to be familiar with the likes of Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot, however, to enjoy Harkup's detailed, near-gleeful dip into what she calls Christie's 'deadly dispensary.'"
– Discover Magazine