I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.
This one is for all the Agatha Christie fans out there who also love science.
Harkup devotes a chapter to each of the 14 poisons Christie used to eliminate so many of her victims over the course of 56 years writing mysteries. In each chapter she discusses the history of each poison's discovery, its use in real crimes throughout history, its antidotes (if any), how its tested for, and how Christie used each poison in her books (as well as how accurate her knowledge was - hint: very).
I found the writing compelling and incredibly interesting, but this is not a book for people bored by, or disinterested in, chemistry and anatomy. Harkup knows her stuff both as a chemist and as a Christie fan. She gets into the nitty gritty details about how each poison wreaks its havoc in the human body; this might cause some eyes to glaze over. In almost every chapter, she manages to discuss Christie's books and plots without revealing the killer, and when she can't avoid it, she clearly warns the reader upfront that there are spoilers ahead, offering "go to page xx" to readers wanting to avoid knowing whodunnit. Some might still find her discussions too revealing, so be warned; if you want to know as little as possible about the books, save this one for later.
At the end, she offers a fascinating appendix of every book and short story Christie wrote, with each US/UK title and a list of all the ways people die, a more esoteric appendix illustrating most of the chemical structures discussed in the text (the rest are on her website), a select bibliography and a comprehensive index.
I came away from this book having learned a lot, but possibly the two most important things: strychnine is just about the last way I'd want to go, and that Christie would have been the last person I'd ever want to piss off.