Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Poisonous Pen of Agatha Christie

By Michael C. Gerald

This is a fun little book I stumbled across when doing some research on Ngaio Marsh and her use of poison as a murder weapon. No doubt about it, Agatha Christie was the Queen of Skulduggery and murder by poison. To quote from the book, 'in over half of her sixty-six novels, at least one or more of the corpses are the victims of overdoses of poisons, drugs and other chemicals.'

Agatha Christie had a head start in using poison in her fiction, with a decent knowledge of medicines due to her working as a dispenser during World War I at the Red Cross Hospital in Torquay. If she didn't know of the poison, she knew where to look to find out about it. Christie used almost anything imaginable, from common poisons, such as arsenic and strychnine, to the more unusual, hyoscine (my favourite), to the outright rare, thallium.

I should probably state that in a former life I was a pharmacist, so have a natural fascination with the use of poisons, and that I've just completed a post grad thesis called 'Poisonous Fiction: Murder, hyoscine and Ngaio Marsh.' So I took great delight in ooohing and aaahing over the various nefarious uses of medications, narcotics, elements and otherwise. The author is a Professor of Pharmacology at Ohio State University, so his approach tends to the academic - he loves statistics, and I have to say, in this context, stats are fun. And it's not just about the poisons used to kill, any medication or agent used correctly or incorrectly gets a mention. So for someone like me, it's a great resource.

Naturally, a book of this nature is one great big spoiler, so if you haven't read much Christie, and don't want to know whodunnit, and how, then best avoid it. But if you have a knowledge and a fondness for things chemical, then it's a fascinating read.


Anonymous said...

Vanda - What an interesting book!!! Thanks for this review. I absolutely must get a copy. Now. :-) It is so interesting that Christie used her own pharmaceutical background as often as she did in her writing, and I really am keen to see what perspective Gerald's pharmacy background gives him on this topic.

Kerrie said...

This would be great for the next Agatha Christie blog Carnival Vanda - publishing October 23 - submit here

Debbie Cowens said...

That book sounds fascinating (as does your post-grad thesis topic). I shall have to get hold of it.

Erin said...

Thinking of you from the Blenheim Public Library (and free wifi). Off to taste some local wine this afternoon. Am about half way through your copy of Oliver and Parrot and I'm not sure if I love it or only like it.

Elizabeth Frengel said...

I came across The Poisonous Pen when I was doing some research on Agatha, and as a pharmacological dunce found it fascinating all the same. Very good of you to spotlight it!

Vanda Symon said...

This was one of those serendipitous discoveries, which seem all the more exciting because of being unexpected. The woman certainly loved her poisons.