Kathryn Harkup

Books: Science | Crime | Biography

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie (2015)

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha ChristieAgatha Christie volunteered as a nurse during the first world war, and ended up working at the pharmacy.

In order to prepare for the Apothecaries Hall examination Christie was tutored in practical, as well as theoretical, aspects of chemistry and pharmacy.

And she volunteered again during the second world war, which meant that she was updated on the changes in the previous to years.

This book looks at the poisons Christie used in her mysteries, how those poisons work on the body, and any criminal cases that might have inspired her in one of her books.

The name 'arsenic' comes from the Persian word zarnikh, which means 'yellow orpiment', a brightly coloured compound of arsenic and sulfur. 3 Zarnikh was then translated into the Greek word arsenikon, which was related to another Greek word, arsenikos, meaning 'masculine' or 'potent', before we finally arrive at arsenic.

Obviously I loved all the little details.

Arsenates (AsO43-) are structurally and chemically similar to phosphates (PO43-) and the body is unable to distinguish between the two.

That is one of the clearest explanations I've ever read on how a poison works.

Although to be honest, I'm not positive I needed to know how to make a zombie.

In Haiti datura is known as the zombie cucumber, because of its use in zombie powders. Making a Haitian zombie is a two-stage process. Stage one uses a powder whose principal component is pufferfish.

But now I know.

And I learned so much else of little use, but which was fascinating.

CYANIDE makes an appearance in no less than ten Agatha Christie novels and four short stories, where she uses it to bump off 18 characters.

And kinda fun as well.

However, between 20 and 60 per cent of people cannot smell cyanide. The research done in this area is not huge - asking people to sniff cyanide, even in safe amounts, does not have volunteers queuing out of the door.

And I love knowing just how accurate her stories were.

Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma

Rating: 8.5/10