Carla Valentine, The Science of Murder: The Forensics of Agatha Christie (2022)

I’m sure I’m not the only one to have quickly dismissed the cozy crime novels for being not scientifically accurate. We read cozy crime novels rather than police procedurals or darker subgenres because we don’t want the blood, the gore and the awful realistic details of a human death. We just want the fun and the plot – and a happy ending. But was Agatha Christine inaccurate in her novels? That’s the question that Carla Valentine, a mortician and certified autopsy technician, sets out to answer. I love all things Agatha Christie, and beyond her own novels, I also read books about her books and about her life: her notebooks, her complex views on dysfunctional families, or even a new take on one of her most famous novels, And then there were none. So when I stumbled upon this new book on Netgalley, I had to read it.

In short, I was not disappointed, although the book was a lot more exhaustive than what I expected. Agatha Christie is known for her fictional use of poisons, a qualification she got while being a nurse in a pharmacy during World War 1. But she was not a chemist behind a desk, she saw a lot more action than what I’d thought, and so she had practical experience of the blood and gore and all those pesky, dirty, often smelly details. All of which were not considered suitable for literary consumption, and one can conclude that she omitted all of them in order to make her books fun, not because she didn’t know.

Carla Valentine examines one by one all the forensic aspects of deaths in Agatha Christie’s novels. There is even a full list of her novels and stories with the method of death(s) in each one! Valentine is very didactic, and I learnt a lot (but didn’t retain everything). In short, Christie was interested in all the famous crimes of her time, as well as the forensic techniques and even firearms (although she made some rookie mistakes in her early books, she got better with them along the way). Valentine examines famous crimes similar to Christie’s books, even some cases where the criminal seemed inspired by the books, and other cases where reading the books actually prevented some murders (when people recognized telltale signs of poisoning, in particular).

You’ll need to be interested in science and forensics and have read a number of Agatha Christie’s books to enjoy it, but Valentine does the utmost to avoid spoilers, and rarely has a science book been more entertaining.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley. I received a free copy of this book for review consideration.

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