A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie

Fourteen novels. Fourteen poisons. Just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it’s all made-up …

Agatha Christie revelled in the use of poison to kill off unfortunate victims in her books; indeed, she employed it more than any other murder method, with the poison itself often being a central part of the novel. Her choice of deadly substances was far from random – the characteristics of each often provide vital clues to the discovery of the murderer. With gunshots or stabbings the cause of death is obvious, but this is not the case with poisons. How is it that some compounds prove so deadly, and in such tiny amounts?

Christie’s extensive chemical knowledge provides the backdrop for A is for Arsenic, in which Kathryn Harkup investigates the poisons used by the murderer in fourteen classic Agatha Christie mysteries. It looks at why certain chemicals kill, how they interact with the body, the cases that may have inspired Christie, and the feasibility of obtaining, administering and detecting these poisons, both at the time the novel was written and today. A is for Arsenic is a celebration of the use of science by the undisputed Queen of Crime.

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I wrote about Agatha Christie and her killer compounds, I also give talks about Christie and other poisons. For more information click here.


A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie … has lethal charm. [Kathryn] Harkup leads every chapter with a literary quote, then proceeds to tell us what the poison is, how and under what circumstances it kills, some real-life instances of its use and what role it plays in the Christie plot … good fun.” –  The Washington Post

“…this book is fascinating and anyone who is interested in the myriad painful and unpleasant ways in which people can be killed will relish it.” –  The Times

“…a cracking compendium of Christie’s poisonings…A Is For Arsenic will appeal to any fan of Christie’s work, but as a potted history of poisons, antidotes and medicines it has much wider reach than that.” –  Mark Lorch, BBC Focus (Science and Technology)

“Harkup superbly captures the texture of Christie’s books, the sunshine and the surreptitious villainy.” – Daily Mail

“Fact and fun packed, A is for Arsenic looks at why certain chemicals kill, how they interact with th body, and the feasibility of obtaining, administering and detecting these poisons.” – Agatha Christie Website

“…a knockout analysis of poisons used in Christie’s novels and short stories…Each chapter gives riveting information on the poison’s chemical makeup, how it kills, whether there’s an antidote, its history and its use in Christie’s works and in real life…This is an absolutely bravura chemical compound.” –  Connie Fletcher, Booklist

“Intriguing and illuminating … will please mystery fans, true crime readers, and lovers of popular science.” – Publishers Weekly

“An enjoyable, alphabetical overview of the renowned mystery writer’s frequent weapon of choice.” – Washington Independent Review of Books

“A fascinating look at the poisons used in Christie’s work.” – How it Works

“If you are coming to Agatha Christie’s work for the first time, an avid fan, have an interest in crime or toxicology, or just like being taken on an adventure through time, A is for Arsenic is a must read.” – Chemistry World

“A killing read that combines scientific expertise with fan-based knowledge.” – Saga


Chemistry World Book Club

The Poisoner’s Cabinet – Expert Witness: Dr Kathryn Harkup

SheDunnit – The Pale Horse

SheDunnit – The Dispenser

To the Best of Our Knowledge – How to Get Away With Murder

Partners in Crime – Poison Special

Guardian Science Podcast – Poison Tales

Agatha Christie and the Dandelion Poisoner