A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie  – ★★★★★
15 September 2020 marks 130 years since the birth of Agatha Christie in 1890, and this review is meant to pay tribute to the ultimate Queen of Crime. The author of A is for Arsenic is Kathryn Harkup, a chemist by profession, who decided to plunge into all the poisons that Christie used in her books to come up with her perfect crimes. In A is for Arsenic, we first read about the scientific properties of each of the poisons used by Christie in her fiction, from arsenic and belladonna to opium and phosphorus (including their histories and the ways they kill), before the author illuminates the real cases involving these poisons, and finally talks about the fictitious cases in Agatha Christie’s books. It is clear that reading about different poisons has never been as morbidly fun or interesting as with this book since Harkup is an intelligent and succinct writer with a great sense of humour. A is for Arsenic is sure to fascinate and delight this Halloween season.
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This is Bessie Head’s debut novel and what a debut it is! Set in Botswana, the story tells of a refugee from South Africa Makhaya who, together with idealistic Englishman Gilbert Balfour, helps to transform the village of Golema Mmidi, finally seeing it rising above the tyranny and oppression. Head’s writing style means that the plot is very easy to follow, and every character is complex and multi-dimensional.
Written before many famous existentialist writers put their pens to paper, including Kafka and Camus, this short novel by Knut Hamsun is a convincing portrayal of one man trying to find his way and survive in a big city. Having no money, the unnamed narrator’s hunger and lack of shelter are palpable in the story as he also faces other hardship and absurdities of life. Very much an introspective novel, Hunger focuses on such themes as loneliness and oppression of the human spirit. Continue reading “May 2019 Wrap-Up” →
The Decagon House Murders [1987/2015] – ★★1/2
This book, translated from the Japanese by Ho-Ling Wong, “was seen as a milestone in detective fiction and the start of the shin honkaku (new orthodox) movement” [1987/2015: 228]. That movement was a revival of the traditional “logical reasoning” detective fiction in Japan that was prevalent in the Golden Age of detective fiction in the 1920s. The new movement was characterised by robot-like personages; game-like setting; and lacking literary context or significance, being purely about solving a whodunit mystery using logical reasoning. Heavily influenced by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None , The Decagon House Murders is about seven Japanese students who decide to stay on an isolated island not far from the main land in a mysterious Decagon House. Some months previously there occurred on the island the mysterious deaths of the owner of the property, his wife and their two servants. The students on the island are then start to be killed off in a fashion reminiscent of that in Agatha Christie’s famous novel. The book premise is exciting, but the book also reads like a videogame script with little character insight, context or emotion (which is intentional, but may not be for everyone), and the final solution is, arguably, too unbelievable and underwhelming.
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I started reading Agatha Christie’s detective novels when I was very young, and my passion for crime mysteries stems largely from my early literary acquaintance with the Queen of Crime. I believe that when you read Christie’s crime mysteries, you also pretty much read the best and certainly most influential murder/detective mysteries there are (apart from probably those of Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe), and others either influenced Christie herself, see The Mystery of the Yellow Room , or are twisted imitations, see The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle . Below are my ten favourite books from Agatha Christie (as you can see I prefer Hercule Poirot mysteries over those of Miss Marple, and also enjoy “exotic location” mysteries).
I. And Then There Were None 
Obviously, And Then There Were None leads my list since this is Christie’s detective masterpiece. In it, eight people arrive to an isolated island invited for different reasons (some with job prospects in mind). They do not find their host on the island, and, it turned out that the cause of their arrival is more sinister as one by one they die from unnatural causes, with their deaths eerily in line with one nursery rhyme. Full of twists, with one big unbelievable reveal towards the end, this book is Christie at her best, and the cleverness and originality of the plot design is still unsurpassed, even though widely imitated.
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