I was amazed at all the information in this book. Concentrating on the types of poisons used by Agatha Christie in her novels had to be pretty much a labor of love for British chemist Kathryn Harkup because you can tell immediately that she is also a fan of this great icon of crime fiction. The book is written from the British point of view with changes in book titles noted for the American market. I really had my doubts that this subject matter could be presented in such a way that it held my attention for the time it took to read the book, but by the end I found myself wishing there was just one more chapter. But then I would have wanted another and another.
The book is very stylishly presented with artwork which is wonderfully evocative of the 1930s art deco style that I somehow assign to the Christie novels even though they were not all written during, or for, that time period. Maybe the really good television series has something to do with that. Each chapter deals with one specific poison beginning with arsenic, then belladonna, cyanide, digitalis, eserine, hemlock, monkshood, nicotine, opium, phosphorus, ricin, strychnine, thallium, and veronal. Each chapter leads off with a brief synopsis of the major novel, or in one instance a short story, the author will be using as an example of the use of that specific poison, then moves on to the story (history) of the poison, how the poison works in the body to kill, whether there is an antidote, some real-life cases, and then how Christie used the poison. I had been afraid the chemistry associated with where the poison comes from and how it works within the body would have been either too technical or too boring for me to enjoy. Wow, was I ever wrong. I discovered all kinds of wonderful facts. This book is wonderfully readable by those of us who aren't trained in the science of chemicals. Plus Kathryn Harkup has a very wry sense of humor which caused me to get some strange looks when I was sitting in a doctor's waiting room laughing out loud while reading a book about poisons. Let's just say the chairs on each side of me became vacant when someone asked what book I was reading. This is the type of book Agatha Christie fans will keep right on the shelf with all their copies of the novels for reference during future re-readings of the novels. Because let's face it, if you love Agatha Christie novels you don't read them just once.
Another fascinating section of the book is Appendix 1: Christie's Causes of Death. This is a chart listing each novel and short story written by Agatha Christie and the method of the murder in that story. Sometimes, with multiple victims there are multiple murder methods. I found this absolutely fascinating and used the list to make sure I do own each story Christie wrote. Actually I own them multiple times over, but there is no need to go into my personal addiction here.
In discussing how Christie used the poisons the author has revealed some spoilers, but she always warns the reader to skip ahead to another section if they aren't familiar with the story and don't want to know who and how. I really appreciated how Harkup complimented Christie on her thoroughness and knowledge when it was warranted, but she didn't hesitate on several occasions to point out that Christie had gotten some things wrong. Interesting for me was how seldom Christie made mistakes in her information.
This book is most definitely aimed at the devoted Agatha Christie fan. I found it fascinating and if you didn't, well........I challenge you to a duel with the infamous Calabar bean!
Added Sept. 10, 2015: I received this book as an ARC through the Amazon Vine Voices program. Often ARC copies don't hold up very well over time and they will have portions omitted because it is not the shelf-ready book. I enjoyed this one so much I purchased the finished copy in hard cover to keep on my shelf for reference material when I'm reading mysteries.