Audiobook of the Month time! I actually have a double bill audio book review for you all because I have been particularly good at listening this month and have steamed through two absolute crackers.
First up is A is for Arsenic: the Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup. Upon learning of this book I thought it seemed like a rather thin premise for a publication. After getting about three pages in I realised that it was a genius idea and couldn’t believe that it hadn’t been done years ago. The world of Christie has been picked over from all sorts of angles over the years; the psychology of murder, the macabre fascination of the reader, the style, the language, the relationship between the characters and the life of the author herself. I have often pointed to the archaeological context of many Christie stories as inspiration for my own interest in history and digging about in exotic corners of the globe. Why wouldn’t the world need a book looking at the real life chemistry behind Agatha’s preferred method of bumping people orf?
Agatha was a dispensing chemist during the Frist World War, through which she developed and subsequently maintained an interest in chemicals, medicines and poisons. Dr Kathryn Harkup is a trained science writer, who presents talks and runs a rather humorous blog. Needless to say she is well placed to get a publishing deal to read everything Christie has ever written and talk about poison. The book is a A-Z style compendium in which every letter covers a different poison and then goes on to explore the Christie story where said poison is deployed, the effect the poison has on the human body and also any real life cases which may have either inspired or been inspired by Christie.
Cards on the table – I’m not a science person. I think in abstracts, feelings and moods. I can’t visualise molecules, how my pancreas secrets hormones or how neuroblockers break down particles to an atomic level and subsequently create black holes that bend space and time and make parallel universes a reality. Or whatevs. Apologies here to several of my close friends who work in the sciences, one of which is a particle physicist; you do great and important work – I just have no idea what it is. However, even for a bonefide, just go and sit in the corner and talk about Parks and Rec at the party dunce like myself, this book is interesting. If you understand more than the chemistry of a Lush bath bomb (sodium right? Makes shizz fizzy?) you will find this book fascinating. For the rest of my artificially minded brethren you will have lots of fun assessing each poison for its merits should you ever choose to take your own life, obviously in a beautiful Millais Ophelia guise after a particularly tragic romance with a poet in Florence. Alternatively you could plan how to carry out the perfect murder and get away with it, involving at some point coolly fleeing to South America in a trench coat and big hat while the handsome detective watches you board a plane with a mixture of admiration and confused lust as he fails to find any evidence to convict you. Sorry, what are we doing again? Oh yeah, audiobook of the month.
If, like me you have pretty much read everything Christie has ever written, you will certainly get a lot out of the work as you merrily bob through the medicine cabinet of murder and fondly go – oh yeah! I remember that guy – he was killed with toilette water on the eve of the masquerade ball, wasn’t he played by Charles Dance? Even more interesting are the real life stories that parallel the events of the Christie publications. Who knew there were such varied and ingenious murders going on? Not I, and I’ve just finished The Invention of Murder for gawds sake. I think most of us like Christie novels because they seem to exist in some sort of heightened dramatic reality where people plot to kill their great aunt over the family jewels with a bottle of furniture polish and some clever deception with a figgy pudding. I think we have to believe that it is all terribly quaint and am dram in nature because our domestic lives would be far too scary if we thought out loved ones might actually try to do us in with our choice brand of dishwasher salts on Christmas eve, but this stuff actually happens! There are real stories in this book more chilling than anything Wes Craven could create – keep Freddie, it’s Mr Peabody from Surbiton with the car wax I’m scared of. And that’s what Agatha was trying to tell us all along – ‘in an English village, you turn over a stone and have no idea what will crawl out’.
Staying with the theme of dastardly deeds of human nature is my second audio book of the month – The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Moriarty: The Secret Life of Sherlock Holmes’s Nemesis edited by Maxim Jakubowski. Mammoth ain’t kidding. This book is big! It’s 37 short stories from different authors exploring new takes on the unknown life of Moriarty. If this seems like another way to spin a buck out of the severely over flogged and mortally wounded horse of the Sherlock franchise, you would be wrong – it’s actually bloody good and entertaining and fun. Sure you have to forgive every author using the phrase ‘The Napoleon of Crime,’ trying as they do to crib authenticity from quotes of the original Conan Doyle text, but hey, you say unoriginal, I say continuity.
The great thing about short story compendiums is that if you have a short attention span like my good self (or are fickle, like my good self) you don’t have a chance to get bored of one style and are constantly being plopped into fun new scenarios. One moment you are in the company of Moriarty and Hitler, then Moriarty the manipulative schoolboy and then to modern day Abu Dhabi where Moriarty is an immortal vampire responsible for the 2008 economic collapse. Like I said, it’s good and fun and very easy to become engrossed with. In short it is the perfect book to read over Christmas, particularly if you are visiting family and don’t have to do much except get bought cups of tea while sitting on a sofa and eating all the fancy biscuits. Obviously just make sure you don’t have any assets in a gold mine before you accept a hot beverage from a long lost nephew…