by Shari Randall
Writers, are you shopping for a poison for your next mystery story? Look no further. Dr. Kathryn Harkup’s new book is just what you are looking for.
A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie is that rare reference book that is both a valuable resource and a pleasure to read. Dr. Harkup is a self-described “science communicator” who writes and gives seminars on what she calls “the quirkier side of science.” Topics of interest to her: vampirology, the science behind Frankenstein, and Agatha Christie’s poisons.
In A Is for Arsenic, Dr. Harkup takes each poison used by Christie and describes its properties in the context of the novel in which it appears. Christie’s background working in pharmacies during World Wars I and II is well known, but Harkup highlights how that knowledge of poisons and their properties allowed Christie to choose the substance that would work best with her characters, setting, and plot.
Look at the Table of Contents:
A is for Arsenic (Murder is Easy)
B is for Belladonna (The Labours of Hercules)
C is for Cyanide (Sparkling Cyanide)
D is for Digitalis (Appointment with Death)
E is for Eserine (Crooked House)
H is for Hemlock (Five Little Pigs)
M is for Monkshood (4:50 from Paddington)
N is for Nicotine (Three Act Tragedy)
O is for Opium (Sad Cypress)
P is for Phosphorus (Dumb Witness)
R is for Ricin (Partners in Crime)
S is for Strychnine (The Mysterious Affair at Styles)
T is for Thallium (The Pale Horse)
V is for Veronal (Lord Edgeware Dies)
The book delves into these poisons as well as others, both actual and those concocted from Christie’s imagination. Dr. Harkup’s treatment of each substance leads us through the histories, symptoms, antidotes (or lack thereof), and famous real-life cases related to each.
This book should come with two warnings. One, it is addictively readable. Two, though the author delves deeply into each of Christie’s poison plots without ever giving away “whodunit,” readers should be aware that details about how the poisons are administered and how the detectives reach their conclusions may be spoilers.
For more information about Dr. Kathryn Harkup, check her website: http://harkup.co.uk/profile.html