Book Reviews Pen & Sword October 2015

Gilliamesque: A Pre-posthumous Memoir’ by Terry Gilliam (who else?!)

Published by Canongate

Reviewed by Steve Earles

It is fair to say that this book is unique, unless Terry does another one, this is a true one-off-for it could only come from the mind of a man so imaginative that the word ‘Gillimaesque’ was coined to describe both what he does and what he inspires.

Before I start to review this book I must give kudos to Canongate and Terry for producing such a beautifully designed book, the Pythonesque stream of creations erupted froim Terry’s head truly encapsulates the contents of the book- for they are the contents of the mighty engines of imagination that grind inside his cranium!

As Terry says: “Once the tape recorder started rolling I couldn’t stop babbling, and we ended up with something closer to a Grand Theft Autobiography…Unlike my good friend Michael Palin- who knew where the real pot of gold was buried from the very beginning- I have never bothered to keep a diary and, as my wife Maggie never tires of reminding me, such memory as I do have left is dangerously- if not actionably- selective.”

Actually, Terry is being unfair on his memory, for instance, he writes very well and vividly of his childhood, which was something in the manner of Mark Twain’s ‘Tom Sawyer (as opposed to Rush’s ‘Tom Sawyer’). I also liked his early pictures inspired by the 50s adaptation of H.G Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’, one of my favourite films. It is funny to see someone as anarchic as Terry Gilliam as the proverbial ‘all-American-boy’, nevertheless, this was so.

The book is awash with visual imagery from magazines he worked on such as ‘Fang’ (possibly the inspiration for his Cardinal Fang character in Monty Python) and ‘Help!’

He provides a valuable snapshot of 60s America: “Every day was a new adventure. From the civil rights struggle to the beginnings of the feminist movement, it felt like the John Birch Society version of America was no longer having things its own way.”

Gilliam made his way to Europe to avoid the draft, became the animator for Monty Python and the rest is history! It was in Python that Terry would develop his unique style of animation. This was to lead to Terry’s first foray into directing (along with fellow Python and fellow Terry, Terry Jones). Gilliam writes of this. “It was a good job that we had two directors, as it meant the other Terry could take over while I quietly processed the realisation that perhaps I didn’t want to direct Monty Python films anymore…Terry [Jones] was choosing the wrong shots- he seemed to be making his choices based on his memory of the feeling on the day the scene was shot rather than what was actually captured on film.”

He would go to direct his first solo film, the excellent ‘Jabberwocky’, based on the poem by Lewis Carroll. I think few films have depicted medieval life as well.

I’ll share a little piece of Gilliam philosophy with you. He writes-“Some people are born angry and will find any excuse to hang on to their rage.”

The now classic and much-loved ‘Time Bandits’ was next. On inspiration Terry writes-‘I’m much more interested in using what I remember of something as a template, rather than going back to check the actuality, because that way I know it’s been through my alembic (the alembic being the distiller that alchemists use for turning base metal into gold, although in my case it does tend to work the opposite way round).’

The battle for Terry’s masterpiece ‘Brazil’ is covered, after that Terry made ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, a superb film, and like many of Terry’s film, life was imitating art, a cinematic mirror to his own harsh reality. He writes wisely, and there is a message here for all of us when life tries to beat us down: “’I’m tired and the world is tired of me,’ was Baron Munchausen’s line. And to be honest, I was feeling the same at this time. As often happened I found it was actually my own children who ended up giving me a reason to carry on. I think the key to survival is trying to keep alive the’ inner child’, whatever that is. We’ve all got that sense of wonder and the ability to be surprised but it’s beaten out of people as they go through life. I’ve just been lucky to be able to find work that allows me to keep that little brat inside alive.”

And throughout the following films, that is exactly what Terry has done, and with new windmills to tilt at appearing all the time, long may this modern Don Quixote continue to do so, he is an example to us all!

www.canongate.tv

Pirates and Seafaring Swashbucklers on the Hollywood Screen’ by James Robert Parish

Published by McFarland

Reviewed by Steve Earles

For anyone with the slightest interest in pirate films this book is an essential. Containing as it does plots, critiques, casts and credits for 137 theatrical and made-for-television releases. As a constructive comment, I would say future editions would benefit from some reproductions of posters and photographs from some of the films covered, because it is a very visual medium we dealing with here.

However, this is more than compensated for with a fine well-written and well-researched text. Swashbuckling indeed! A book that will have a great shelf life for anyone who buys it as the reader can go back to it again and again.

www.mcfarlandpub.com

The Adaptation of History: Essays on Ways of Telling The Past’

Edited by Laurence Raw and Defne Ersin Tutan

Published by McFarland

Reviewed by Steve Earles

An excellent collection of essays on how history is shaped, by profession historian, film-makers, novelists, poets ect. Reality is all about perception, and these essays explore how we perceive history in great detail.

A thought-provoking book indeed.

www.mcfarlandpub.com

The Tudors on Film and Television’ by Sue Parrill and William B. Robinson.

Published by McFarland

Reviewed by Steve Earles

This is an amazing book. The scholarship and writing is first class. This is a book that you don’t have to be interested in the Tudors to read but if you are, you will be in Seventh Heaven!

I truly did not realise how much the Tudors have featured in film and television until I read this book.

To give you a few examples, the authors write perceptively: “In some cases- for example, the two Blanchett films- the producers seem to have spent so much on costumes, scenery, effects and big-name actors that little was left for scriptwriters, much less historical research. However, even with a relatively low budget, simple sets, and a minimum of star power, Elizabeth R shows that a good script, a regard for historical accuracy, and talented actors can produce a masterpiece.”

On the dreadful film ‘Anonymous’, they write wittily: “Anonymous takes itself very seriously, unlike the equally fictional but much more watchable Shakespeare in Love, which engages in obvious self-mockery throughout. Tellingly, the film, which posits political motives for ‘Oxford’s plays, has achieved the rare distinction of drawing condemnation from critics across the ideological spectrum.’

Finally, I have to say their writing on ‘Blackadder’ is first-class. I never knew there was an unaired ‘Blackadder’ pilot.

A book that does justice it its subject matter. No higher compliment can I pay it.

www.mcfarlandpub.com

www.tudorsonfilm.com

The Most Dangerous Cinema: People Hunting On Film’ by Bryan Senn

Published by McFarland

Reviewed by Steve Earles

This is a very original idea for a film book, dealing with film and television productions adapted from or inspired by the famous 19124 short story from Richard Connell-‘The Most Dangerous Game.’

Senn is a cultured and entertaining writer, and this is a book that would appeal to a variety of film fans.

Senn has a good sense of humour but never loses sight of his primary aims and has produced a book he and his publishers can be proud of.

Well-illustrated, well-written and well-researched, with a fabulous cover, this is certainly a book well up to McFarland’s usual high standards.

www.mcfarland.com

Scenes Unseen’ by Harry Waldman

Published by McFarland

Reviewed by Steve Earles

This is a fantastic idea for a book, covering unreleased and uncompleted films from the world’s great filmmakers, covering the period 1912-1990. I’ve picked three examples below.

Orson Welles plays a major part in this book. Particularly his unfinished ‘Don Quixote’, which Welles worked on for twenty years. In fact, it was a case of life imitating art with Welles himself as Don Quixote (when Terry Gilliam tried to film his version of the Quixote story, he too found that life imitated art, and at the time of writing has not gotten his version on the silver screen. However, I believe he will!)

Even in Welles’ case, there was something of a happy ending as Waldman writes: ’A year after Welles died, the unfinished ‘Don Quixote’- a silent film 45 minutes in length, interrupted only occasionally be Welles’ voice playing alternatively Quixote and Sancho Panza- was screened at the French Cinematheque.”

Even a major success story such as Alfred Hitchcock had his problems, as Waldman reveals: ‘In his long career, Alfred Hitchcock left unfinished his first directorial effort, called ‘Number Thirteen’ (1922); two medium-length films, made in French for the Allied war effort, were never released in the United States. One, titled ‘Adventure Malagache’ (1944), which was banned in 1944, is unique in Hitchcock’s career. The director stirred controversy modelling the characters on coarse-speaking Gaullist supporters and commenting on France’s recent history of Vichy collaboration and colonialism.

Even James Whale has an unseen film, revealed by Waldman: ‘James Whale was the veteran director of ‘Frankenstein’ (1931) and ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933). Having retired, after making ‘They Dare Not Love’ in 1941, to take up painting, Whale made a lost movie in 1949. His film ‘Hello Out There’ has never been released because the film’s wealthy producer, who was married to leading actress Marjorie Steele, disliked the acting.’

This is a superbly written and highly original book.

www.mcfarland.com

The Man With The Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters’ Edited by Fergus Fleming

Published by Bloomsbury

Reviewed by Steve Earles

‘The Man With The Golden Typewriter’ contains many unpublished letters by Ian Fleming, which give a unique insight into the creation of his iconic character James Bond.

With the recent release of ‘Spectre’, this is a timely book; and written by Fleming’s nephew no less.

I was struck when I read this book at what a superb letter writer that Fleming was. E-mail and text has killed off this form of communication; and that is such a shame. We are all poorer for it, and more isolated.

Fleming corresponded not only with his wife and publisher but the likes of Raymond Chandler, Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham.

I’ll let the man’s own words speak for themselves. He wrote to his wife at their house ‘Goldeneye’: “My sweetheart. A vulture is sitting on top of the roof above my head. It is squatting on its stomach across the gable like a hen roosting and looks too ridiculous. When I walked out into the garden just now away from my bondage I thought this would be a bad omen and that there would still be no letter from you. I have spent a whole week getting up and peering towards the tray to see if something had arrived. But the funny vulture was a good omen and there was a nice fat packet from you which I have now devoured.”

An excellent and unique book, not just for fans of James Bond but for anyone who loves the art of letter-writing.

www.bloomsbury.com

The Novel Cure: An A to Z of Literary Remedies’ by Susan Elderkin and Ella Berthoud

Published by Canongate

Reviewed by Steve Earles

Bibliotherapy is a great idea, the idea that certain novels will help cure whatever ails you. Well, there are no drugs, expensive doctors and treatments involved, so how can you lose? At the very least you’ll get to read some great books. The authors really have great passion for their subjects and this infects the reader!

Well written, uplifting and informative, this is both a helpful and fun read, the ideal gift!

www.canongate.tv

Instrumental’ by James Rhodes

Published by Canongate

Reviewed by Steve Earles

James Rhodes is considered to be a musical genius, yet this genius has come at something of a great price. This book tells his story in his own words and way, and is a testament to the healing and transformative powers of music.

Highly affecting.

www.jamesrhodes.tv

www.canongate.tv

Welcome to…Just A Minute’ by Nicholas Parson

Published by Canongate

Reviewed by Steve Earles

It is an amazing to think that in 2017 the radio comedy ‘Just A Minute’ will be celebrating it’s 50th anniversary, an amazing feat of longevity.

‘Just A Minute’ is a program that has survived and evolved over several generations of listeners. Nicolas Parson tells the story of the program, its origins, how it developed, and how it continues to find new audiences (over two and a half million listeners a week!).

The book contains many anecdotal tales of the performers involved, such as the ill-feeling between Paul Merton and Wendy Richards, which resulting in her being dropped from the show.

A book that is as entertaining as its subject matter, and a book about an institution by an institution.

www.canongate.tv

The Book of Strange New Things’ by Michael Faber

Published by Canongate

Reviewed by Steve Earles

We live in a world where people are becoming ever more separated from human contact, so I think that Michael Faber’s ‘The Book of Strange New Things’ will become a book for the ages, as it explores the effect of distance on a relationship.

I won’t spoil the story by revealing much of its plot, but it tells the story of Peter Leigh, a man on a mission to deep space. While being pushed to his own limits, he learns that things are going badly for his wife back home.

This is a beautifully written novel that resonates on a very human level, anyone reading it with empathy will get a lot out of it.

I must also mention the incredible cover design…absolutely stunning.

www.canongate.tv

The Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of Mass Unemployment’ by Martin Ford

Published by Oneworld

Reviewed by Steve Earles

This is a chilling book, about how automation and Artificial Intelligence will create mass unemployment. A couple of recent personal anecdotes that show just how frighteningly accurate and perceptive this book is. A couple of years ago I travelled abroad for a funeral of a family member. I went to buy a book at Waterstones at the airport. To my horror, I found they had automated the bookshop, and worse the one remaining employee had to bare the indignity of showing the public how to use the machine that replaced him. Then last year, our local Extravision replaced all its staff with a vending machine! We see more of this in supermarkets, fast-food outlets, warehouses ect. The human factor is being slowly removed

You can see how automation and AI is a dream for businesses that care only about money rather than people (so, that’s most businesses) sadly.

If this continues, which it will, we face mass unemployment and an economic explosion.

Ford is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, so he knows that which he writes about as he’s played a part in creating it

We see the horror of ‘zero-hour’ contracts and part-time work, employers often see their staff as no more than biological machines. And the traditional paths of college and education are not the guarantee they were. We will also see traditional manual labour severely effected by the rise in technology, so this is a problem that is pervasive at all levels.

This cannot continue, as people get poorer, they have less to spend and the economy collapses, witness the rise and fall of the Celtic Tiger in Ireland. Society will in the future face severe problems due to the rise in the use of technology.

Martin Ford does have solutions to suggest. I have to say, this is both a frightening and important book, and if you care about the future, you should read it. In fact, the more people that read it, the better for all of us.

www.oneworld-publications.com

On Writing’ by Charles Bukowski

Published by Canongate

Reviewed by Steve Earles

“If a man truly desires to write, then he will. Rejection and ridicule will only strengthen him…There is no losing in writing, it will make your toes laugh as you sleep, it will make you stride like a tiger, it will fire the eye and put you face to face with death. You will die a fighter, you will be honoured in hell. The luck of the word. Go with it, send it.”

Charles Bukowski

That says how valuable this book is better than anything I could ever write. This book of never-before-published letter of Charles Bukowski is invaluable, not just to fans of Bukowski’s work, but anyone interested, not just in writing, but in life.

Canongate have always shown great regard for Bukowski’s work, but here they have really surpassed themselves. A valuable and moving book.

www.canongate.tv

The Radleys’ by Matt Haig

Published by Canongate

Reviewed by Steve Earles

A vampire novel with a difference, and a great satire on modern life.

I really like the idea of a family of vampires voluntarily forgoing blood and trying to live a normal suburban life. I also loved the way the existence of vampires is written as an established (if covert) part of our world with for example Lord Byron and Jim Morrison being revealed as vampires.

I could see the Radleys being made into a successful TV series, it has the concept, characters and the story.

www.canongate.tv

Twilight of the Eastern Gods’ by Ismail Kadare

Published by Canongate

Reviewed by Steve Earles

The author spent two years as a young man at the Gorky Institute in Moscow in the later 1950s, so there is definitely an autobiographical element to this story which gives it great authenticity. I won’t spoil the book for potential readers by revealing plot spoilers, but it does give a great insight into the Russia of the period, and many real names make an appearance. The furore over the publication of Doctor Zhivago in the West and its author Boris Pasternak’s earning of the Nobel Prize is fascinating.

Those with an interest in Russia will find much of interest here. However, it may not hold as much appeal to the casual reader. Still, it is a worthy book in its own right.

www.canongate.tv

The Murderer’s Daughter’ by Jonathan Kellerman

Published by Headline

Reviewed by Steve Earles

Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware novel series is much loved so this stand-alone novel is interesting, as is Grace, its main character. She is a psychologist, albeit one who specialises in adult trauma therapy, a subject she has a close affinity to as we learn from flashbacks. Thus is a really excellent element of this novel, and it helps built a close rapport for the reader with Grace.

Then, in the present, a meeting with a client sends her headlong into a thrilling adventure which may have connections closer to home than she thinks. No more will I say for fear of spoiling the story for the readers.

Suffice to say, this book is up to Kellerman’s usual standards, and could easily be the beginning of a very popular series.

www.headline.co.uk

The Taxidermist’s Daughter’ by Kate Mosse

Published by Orion

Reviewed by Steve Earles

With such novels as ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Citadel’ Kate Mosse is internationally renowned.

‘The Taxidermist’s Daughter’ is up to her usual high standard, but it is different too. It combines the Gothic novel (‘Wuthering Heights’ , ‘The Castle of Otranto’ ect) with Agatha Christie, set in a very believable 1912.

Kate’s plotting and pacing is excellent, and the readers will be well into the book before they begin to glimpse its secrets, and even then they could easily be wrong.

There is more than touch of Charles Dickens and Daphne Du Maurier about this novel. Indeed, you could easily imagine Alfred Hitchcock making a film of this. In his understandable absence, I could see the revived Hammer Films making a good adaptation, all the stuffed animals alone would be spooky, those glass eyes staring accusingly.

The central character Connie Gifford, the titular taxidermist’s daughter, is a good creation on the part of her author, not clichéd and necessarily likable, but believable and understandable.

An excellent novel, and like the authors I mentioned in my review, one that will be read in the decades to come.

www.orionbooks.co.uk

Bog Bodies Uncovered: Solving Europe’s Ancient Mystery’ by Miranda Aldhouse-Green

Introduction by Val McDermid

Published by Thames & Hudson

Reviewed by Steve Earles

This is a timely book. Over the last few decades more and more bog bodies have been and uncovered, and with every find both evidence and new questions arose. Why were these people killed? Were they victims of murder or of ritual sacrifice with religious significance?

Today’s archaeologists are attempting to answer these questions, treating the bog bodies as the ultimate cold cases.

With exemplary research, archaeologist and author Miranda Aldhouse-Green has written an enthralling story, revealing many truths behind these most ancient preserved bodies. This is C.S.I of ancients Celts, what an amazing thing!

This is a beautifully written, produced and illustrated book, typical of Thames & Hudson’s high standards, and the reader will be drawn back to it again and again.

Superb.

www.thamesandhudson.com

The Movie Doctors’ by Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode

Published by Canongate

Reviewed by Steve Earles

This is a great idea for a book. Kermode and Mayo have made a very good team over the last 12 years, and have extended their double-act into an entertaining and knowledgeable movie book. As is typical of Canongate the design, and illustrations are first class, a lot of thought has gone into the look of this book

Okay, the idea is that Mayo and Kermode are doctors, right? But not just any old doctors, they’re movies doctors, and are using, in a witty way, the movies to cure what ails you. Thus, for example, The Piano is rightly prescribed as a cure for insomnia. Movies them selves also receive their treatment- for example, surgery is prescribed for those films of excessive length.

Really, this is like a great conversation in a pub, moreover, it’s written by two fellows who really love the movies (Mark likes The Exorcist a little, believe it or not! Indeed The Exorcist makes no less than 10 appearance in this book…surely 13 would have been better?! Though, in fairness, there is a fine four-page skit entitled ‘Possession’).

You cannot argue with a book that mentions Hammer’s 1957 ‘Curse of Frankenstein.’ My all-time favourite director makes three appearances. The authors write with both perception and humour of Carpenter’s classic ‘Halloween’: “Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Sam Loomis may be the nominal ‘good guy’ in John Carpenter’s stalk-and-slash smash ‘Halloween’, but his character manages to be the creepiest thing on screen. No wonder they kept bringing him back for the sequels.”

Indeed, it is the author’s humour and knowledge that makes ‘The Movie Doctors’ a thing of joy forever. For instance, they have a section entitled ‘Beyond Belief: Movie Heroes Who Defy Medical Science’ wherein they write of John McClain of ‘Die Hard’ fame: “Tom the cat in ‘Tom and Jerry’ has nothing on John McClain in the Die Hard franchise- he can dust himself down having fallen fifty feet, survive a hailstorm of machine-gun fire and, in a scene which the Movie Doctors particularly like for its medical accuracy, can throw a massive explosive device out of the back of a train and survive unscathed- always armed with a pithy one-liner and a winning grimace. And our favourite vest ever.”

The chapter entitled ‘Uppers & Downers’ is very funny too. As a downer they rightly pick ‘Angela’s Ashes’ which they right describe as “as miserable, poor, wet, sick, violent, cruel Catholic childhood in Limerick becomes slightly less miserable in New York.”

Once again, Die Hard rears it’s battered but unbowed head, this time as an upper. “There is no doubt that this action movie is a hoot- a feel-good film full of jokes and memorable one-liners. True, there are quite a few deaths, falling bodies, explosions and scenes of general peril, but we never for a second doubt that Bruce Willis’s moral compass is pointed firmly at Righteous North.”

Mayo Kermode also managed to name-check two of my favourite things, Motorhead and Mad Max: “Anyone who has been to a multiplex in recent years will know that two things have gone up: ticket prices and volume…Going to see a major blockbuster in a big cinema is now as loud as going to Motorhead concert- ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ cleaned most of the wax out of the Movie Doctors’ ears. In our own version of an ENT clinic, we offer advice about tinnitus, nose jobs and how to choose a good dentist. No need to think us- its all part of the service.”

Finally, this segues my review into “We’re Going To Need A Bigger Picture: Unexpected Medical Attention In The Movies.” (The title is, of course, a reference to the classic ‘Jaws’ [See also ‘Season of the Witch’ with Ron Perlman, which is a great B-Movie).

They cover such trauma as…

“HEAD-‘The Omen- Clean, probably sterile and without question effective, the Movie Doctors recommend a sheet of plate glass for any essential head removal.”

“HANDS- ‘Evil Dead 2’. When your hands become possessed by evil spirits, it’s time to reach for the chainsaw. Twice.”

“FEET-‘Misery’. If your ankles are troubling you, you could do worse than to call Kathy Bates, who can work wonders with a block of wood, a piece of string and a sledge hammer.”

So, there you have it, hopefully the first of many fine books from Kermode and Mayo.”

www.canongate.tv

Suspicious Minds’ by Rob Brotherton

Published by Bloomsbury Sigma

Reviewed by Steve Earles

This is a well-written, well-researched book about why people need to believe in conspiracy theories. In one way you could say it was a timely book, and it is, but conspiracy theories have been with us for a very long time.

And while it is the high-profile conspiracy theorists that we take the most notice of, they are everywhere. You almost certainly know a conspiracy theorist, you may even be one!

We know all the nutty theories- ‘shape-shifting aliens’ [!*] controlling the world and the like, but conspiracy theories are not always funny, and they often cost many human lives.

So, in ‘Suspicious Minds’ Rob Brotherton investigates and explains why humans are drawn to conspiracism, and a lot of it is down to the way our brains are biased. We have a need to explain what we perceive as reality, a need for a reason for why things happen and it very often doesn’t matter if the reason is true, just as long as it workds.

I’ll let the writer speak for himself: ‘Richard Hofstadter noted the “heroic strivings” with which conspiracy theorists amass evidence in favour of their claims. “Conspiracy theorists do not see themselves as raconteurs of alluring stories,” Jovan Byford notes, “but as investigators and researchers.” There are entire cottage industries devoted to the Kennedy assassination, the 9/11 attacks, and endless other conspiracy theories. The most committed conspiracists possess an intricate knowledge of their subject, often far in excess of their debunkers. If you’ve ever debated a devoted 9/11 Truther, you may have been regaled with an endless list of facts and arguments pointing towards conspiracy as the only possible explanation. The conspiracist style, however does not treat all evidence equally.”

A superb and thought provoking book.

www.bloomsbury.com

The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science’ by Armand Marie Leroi

Published by Bloomsbury

Reviewed by Steve Earles.

The lagoon of the title refers to an area in the Eastern Aegean where the great philosopher Aristotle came to work over two thousand years ago.

Aristotle is right regarded a great philosopher (he wrote ‘Poetics, Politics and metaphysics’, which still has an influence on thinking today.)

This has overshadowed the fact that Aristotle was the world’s first biologist. With the help of the farmers, hunter and fishermen that lived around him, Aristotle observed and catalogued the animal world, writing the zoological treatise, ‘Historia animalium’, which covers everything from the stomachs of snails to the sensitivity of sponges. He would go on to explore the natural world over another twelve books.

In ‘The Lagoon’, biologist Armand Leroi goes to Lesbos to see the world Aristotle saw, to explore what Aristotle got right…and what he got wrong.

Most importantly, he explores the connection between Aristotle’s philosophical system and his science, one that continues to have a bearing on modern science.

This is a subject of great complexity, written by a master about a master in such a way that the reader does not have to an expert to understand, which to me is the mark of a good writer. The readers will emerge from their reading looking at the world with the same sense of wonder as Aristotle and that is a great gift in itself.

www.bloomsbury.com

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie’ by Kathryn Harkup

Published by Bloomsbury Sigma

Reviewed by Steve Earles

Agatha Christie, decades after her death, is still as popular as ever while the majority of her contemporaries have been confined to the dustbin of mystery history.

Her detailed plots play a big part in this and the use of poison as a weapon of murder plays a big part in those plots. It’s fair to say that dame Agatha was an expert in poisons as she worked in a chemists during both world wars. So expert is her knowledge and so seamlessly is it integrated in the narrative of her mysteries that it often goes unnoticed.

‘A is for Arsenic’ will change all that. The author is both a fan of Christie’s work and a research chemist, so she is the perfect writer for this book.

Each chapter of ‘A is for Arsenic’ takes a different Christie mystery and explores the poison, or indeed poisons, used therein. She explores how they kill, how they interact with the body, and so forth.

This is a book the reader will turn to again and again, it is indeed a keeper.

Kudos are due to Bloomsbury for the beautiful design of this book, Dame Agatha would have been pleased.

A superb book, both for those interested in the work of Agatha Christie and popular science.

www.bloomsbury.com