Halloween Bingo 2019 PreParty — Question for 08/12 (Day 12): Classic Crime and Classic Horror Recommendations?

Late to today’s party and most of my really big favorites have already made an appearance in other folks’ posts, so I figured I’ll just list mine and showcase at the top of my post some of the books that haven’t yet been highlighted by others.  By bingo category, with suspense and mysteries together in one block and an extra block for the children’s books instead:


Dorothy L. Sayers: Lord Peter Wimsey series, especially the Wimsey & Vane subseries / quartet
Arthur Conan Doyle: Sherlock Holmes series
Agatha Christie: Poirot, Miss Marple and Tommy & Tuppence series, The Witness for the Prosecution, The Mousetrap, And Then There Were None, Crooked House, Towards Zero, The Sittaford Mystery
Patricia Wentworth: Miss Silver series
Ngaio Marsh: Roderick Alleyn series
Josephine Tey: Brat Farrar, The Daughter of Time, The Franchise Affair
John Dickson Carr: The Hollow Man
Anthony Wynne: Murder of a Lady
Mavis Doriel Hay: The Santa Klaus Murder
Georgette Heyer: Envious Casca
Robert van Gulik: Judge Dee series
Georges Simenon: Maigret series
Graham Greene: The Third Man
John Mortimer: Rumpole series
Ruth Rendell: Inspector Wexford series
P.D. James: Inspector Dalgliesh series
Dennis Wheatley: Who Killed Robert Prentice?
Q. Patrick: File on Fenton and Farr
Mary Roberts Rinehart: Locked Doors
Rex Stout: Nero Wolfe series
Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr. Ripley
Raymond Chandler: The Big Sleep
Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon
Cornell Woolrich: Rear Window, The Bride Wore Black
James M. Cain: Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice
John Dudley Ball: In the Heat of the Night
Mario Puzo: The Godfather
Neil Simon, H.R.F. Keating: Murder by Death


William Shakespeare: The Tempest
J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings
C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia
Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451
Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale
George Orwell: 1984
Aldous Huxley: Brave New World
Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Sheri S. Tepper: The True Game
Alfred Lord Tennyson: The Lady of Shalott


William Shakespeare: Macbeth
Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey
Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre
Anne Brontë: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Daphne Du Maurier: Rebecca
Christina Rossetti: Goblin Market
Charles Dickens: Bleak House, A Christmas Carol, The Signalman
Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Canterville Ghost
Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone
Theodor Storm: Der Schimmelreiter (The Dykemaster)
Edith Wharton: Ghost Stories
Edgar Allan Poe: The Cask of Amontillado, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven, The Mask of the Red Death
Bram Stoker: Dracula
Mary Shelley: Frankenstein
Robert Louis Stevenson: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Henry James: The Turn of the Screw
Shirley Jackson: The Lottery, We Have Always Lived in the Castle


Otfried Preußler: The Little Witch, The Little Ghost
Robert Arthur, et al.: The Three Investigators series
T.H. White: The Sword in the Stone
Wilhelm Hauff: Fairy Tales



Original post:

Kathryn Harkup: A Is for Arsenic

Should come with several prescriptions / warning labels

The first caveat, obviously, being “don’t ever try this at home.”  Most of the poisons Harkup discusses are much harder to obtain these days than in Agatha Christie’s time, so for most of them the risk of being used as a murder weapon may have been mitigated in the interim, but that’s not true for all of them — belladonna, phosphorus, opiates, ricin, and thallium are still scarily easy to obtain (or distill) if you know how and where, and the story of Graham Young (aka the stepson from hell) is a chilly reminder that (1) it may not actually be a particularly wise idea to present your 11 year old son with a chemistry set for Christmas for being such a diligent student of the subject — particularly if he has taken a dislike to your new spouse — and (2) there are still poisons out there, thallium among them, that are but imperfectly understood and may, therefore, be misdiagnosed even today.

My second caveat would be to either read this book only after you’ve finished all of Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories that are discussed here, or at least, let a significantly enough amount of time go by between reading Harkup’s book and Christie’s fiction. (Obviously, if you’re just reading this one for the chemistry and have no intention of picking up Christie’s works at all, the story is a different one.)

There are exactly two instances where Harkup gives a spoiler warning for her discussion of the books by Agatha Christie that she is using as “anchors” for the poisons under discussion (morphine / Sad Cypress and ricin / Partners in Crime: The House of Lurking Death), and in both instances, my feeling is that she is using the spoiler warning chiefly because she is expressly giving away the identity of the murderer.

In truth, however, several other chapters should come with a massive spoiler warning as well; not because Harkup is explicit about the murderer (she isn’t), but because she gives away both the final twist and virtually every last detail of the path to its discovery.  As Harkup herself acknowledges, a considerable part of Agatha Christie’s craft consists in creating elaborate sleights of hand; in misdirecting the reader’s attention and in creating intricate red herrings that look damnably convincingly like the real thing.  But in several chapters of A Is for Arsenic, Harkup painstakingly unravels these sleights of hand literally down to the very last detail, making the red herrings visible for what they are, and even explaining just how Christie uses these as part of her elaborate window dressing.  The effect is the same as seeing a conjurer’s trick at extreme slow motion (or having it demonstrated to you step by step) — it completely takes away the magic.  Reading Harkup’s book before those by Christie that she discusses in the chapters concerned makes you go into a later read of those mysteries not only knowing exactly what to look for and why, but also what to discard as window dressing — the combined effect of which in more than one instance also puts you on a direct trail to uncovering the murderer.  This applies to the chapters about hemlock (Five Little Pigs, aka Murder in Retrospect — see my corresponding status update), strychnine (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), thallium (The Pale Horse), and Veronal (Lord Edgware Dies); as well as, arguably, though perhaps to a lesser degree, to the chapter about belladonna (The Labours of Hercules: The Cretan Bull).  In fact, in at least one of these chapters (Veronal) she as good as discloses both the murderer and the final twist before she’s ever gotten to a discussion of the drug used in the first place.

As a result, Harkup’s book loses a half star in my rating on this basis alone, and I’m left with one of the odd entries in my library where I’m checking off the “favorite” box for a book that I’m not rating at least four stars or higher.  Because the fact is also that I immensely enjoyed Harkup’s explanations just how the poisons used in Christie’s novels work (and where they occur naturally / what they derive from), which has both increased my already enormous respect for Christie’s chemical knowledge and the painstaking way in which she applied that knowledge in her books, and also served as fascinating background reading and a chemistry lesson that is both fun and instructive.  I just know that this is one of the books I will come back to again and again in the future, not only when revisiting Christie’s catalogue but also when reading other books (mysteries and otherwise) involving poison — from the beginning of this read, I’ve had repeated flashbacks to books by other writers (and I’m gratified that Harkup hat-tips at least one of them, Ngaio Marsh’s Final Curtain, in her discussion of thallium, even if I’d also have liked at least a little word on the effect of the embalming procedure described Marsh); and I’m fairly certain that my future mystery reads involving poisons will prompt some considerable fact-checking at the hands of A Is for Arsenic.

Which in turn brings us back to caveat No. 1, I suppose … don’t ever try this at home!


Comments on Individual Chapters:
Introduction and Chapter 1: Arsenic
Chapter 3: Cyanide
Chapter 4: Digitalis
Chapter 6: Hemlock
Chapters 7-9: Monkshood, Nicotine, Opium
Chapters 10 & 11: Phosphorus & Ricin



Original post:


Podcasts: Shedunnit & The Guardian

Harkup on Christie’s training and the way she used her knowledge in her novels:


Harkup on Thallium:


Harkup on the Guardian’s Science Weekly podcast:


Other Podcasts


An Enjoyable Romp Through the Swinging 1920s’ London

The Secret Adversary (1922) and the short stories eventually collected in the slender volume Partners in Crime (1929) count among Agatha Christie‘s earliest publications; early enough to have promised their quirky protagonists, Tommy and “Tuppence” (Prudence) Beresford as long and eventful a fictional career as that of their colleague Hercule Poirot, who had debuted two years prior to them with his own first case in The Mysterious Affair at Styles.  Alas, that wasn’t to be. Nor did Tommy and Tuppence enjoy even half as many adventures as Agatha Christie‘s almost equally well-loved (and her personal favorite) village sleuth Miss Marple, whose first adventure (Murder at the Vicarage) would not be published until 1930, and who would solve crimes in twelve novels and a total of twenty short story collections over an improbable period of 40+ years. In fact, Christie only authored three more Beresford mysteries: 1941’s N or M? (a WWII spy thriller set in a coastal guesthouse), 1968’s By the Pricking of My Thumbs (where a visit to a nursing home prompts them to track down the real-life object of a painting, only to find themselves hunting for a child murderer) and Postern of Fate (1973), the last book ever written by Christie (although not the last one published); at a time when her powers as a writer had seriously waned and thus, at best, a rather tedious postscript to the superior earlier stories.

Not as eccentric as Poirot and Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence are nevertheless immediately likeable, and perfectly cast in this 1983–1984 TV series with Francesca Annis and James Warwick, reprising their successful collaboration from the 1980 TV adaptation of Christie‘s Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Taking its title from the second entry in the Beresford cycle, the TV series includes  a feature film-length dramatization of The Secret Adversary and shorter, two-part episodes based on most, though not all of the short stories contained in the eponymous book collection, in which the Beresfords solve crimes in the style of the Golden Age’s other (then-)well known detectives; including, incidentally, Hercule Poirot, however in a story not included in the TV series (The Man Who Was No. 16, which parodies Poirot’s case in The Big Four).


Although The Mysterious Affair at Styles had already proved Christie to be a writer of exceptional talent, her first Tommy and Tuppence adventures – penned for financial reasons as much as out of a desire to write – still show her style as a work in progress, sometimes lacking certainty as to what exactly works in terms of characterization and storylines. While she succeeds, like in the first Poirot mystery, to immediately draw in her audience, and the Beresfords are presented in as much detail as the little Belgian with the many gray cells, the plotlines – particularly that of The Secret Adversary – sometimes stretch credibility and have a whiff of the kind of story that Arthur Conan Doyle could get away with 20 years earlier, but which Christie herself (wisely) only took up infrequently later (and even then, not always with more solidly constructed plotlines and at least halfway successfully only when also using Poirot as her main character). Thus, if the televised versions of these early Tommy and Tuppence stories appear somewhat less convincing than the more acclaimed adaptations of Christie‘s Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries starring David Suchet and Joan Hickson in the title roles, this is at least partly owing to the literary originals themselves: The creators of the TV series did, however, reproduce the mysteries’ “swinging Twenties” setting successfully and with a fine eye for detail; and Francesca Annis and James Warwick give terriffic performances as the vivacious, hat-loving Tuppence and her (almost) equally witty, only slightly more settled husband.

Tommy and Tuppence’s boisterous young assistant Alfred is portrayed by Reece Dinsdale; best known, since, as the father of Coronation Street‘s Tina McIntyre (Joe McIntyre), as well as Guildenstern in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, D.I. Scott in the mid-1990s British cop show Thief Takers, and one of the protagonists of the 1995 football/soccer movie Undercover. There are also recurrent appearances by British TV regular Arthur Cox as Detective Inspector Marriott, in the televised version chiefly responsible for establishing the couple as owners of Blunt’s International Detective Agency (in the books, the agency is a cover for the Beresfords’ spy activities), who informally continues to consult them whenever he feels that Scotland Yard’s official capacities have reached their limits.

The Secret Adversary sees Tommy and Tuppence after the end of WWI, both out of work (Tommy has been an intelligence officer, Tuppence a nurse) and looking for adventure. That opportunity presents itself when, as a result of two newspaper ads, they are sent on the hunt for a lost treaty which, if published now, would cause a general strike and throw the country into turmoil, thus playing into the hands of a mysterious criminal known only as “Mr. Brown,” and set on nothing less than the attainment of absolute power. The key to the treaty is believed to lie with a young American woman named Jane Finn, who has likewise disappeared and whose cousin Julius P. Hersheimer (or is he really?), Tommy and Tuppence learn, is “the third richest man in America.” – Further notable appearances here include those of Alec McCowen (influential barrister Sir James Peele Edgerton), Gavan O’Herlihy (Hersheimer), Peter Barkworth (intelligence chief Carter) and Honor Blackman, as well as George Baker of Inspector Wexford fame, as members of “Mr. Brown”‘s gang.

 Partners in Crime: The Affair of the Pink Pearl: Partners in Crime: The Affair of the Pink Pearl: Partners in Crime: The Man in the Mist: Partners in Crime: The Man in the Mist:

The shorter Partners in Crime mysteries have Tommy and Tuppence hunting for a vanished pink pearl and uncovering, inter alia, the mastermind behind a string of poisonings (The House of Lurking Death: drawing on Christie‘s trademark knowledge acquired when she was a nurse in WWI herself), the culprit of a murder during a masked ball (Finessing the King), and the evil spirits responsible for a series of seemingly unearthly occurrences in an old house (The Clergyman’s Daughter: again drawing on Christie‘s own experience, as the sleuthing couple’s client is compelled – like Christie‘s mother periodically – to rent out rooms in her large house as a means of survival). The common trait of these mysteries is Tommy and Tuppence’s assumption of the roles of other literary detectives; albeit, while famous in their time, not all of them still remembered today: the portrayed characters are most easily recognizable when the Beresford attend the aforementioned masked ball disguised as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, when they solve a fog-beset rural locked door mystery in the style of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown (The Man in the Mist), and when they hunt a ring of money forgers led by a shady character whom they are quick to dub “The Crackler,” and who could (ambiance and all) have stepped straight out of the pages of a thriller by Edgar Wallace. Died-in-the-wool aficionados of golden age mysteries will probably also recognize the methods of R. Austin Freeman’s Dr. Thorndyke in the first one of the shorter episodes, The Affair of the Pink Pearl.

While not quite on the level of Christie‘s more famous mysteries and their TV adaptations starring David Suchet and Joan Hickson, this series is an enjoyable romp through the the swinging 1920s’ London; and it seems likely that it will remain the only adaptation faithful to Christie‘s original Tommy and Tuppence stories for some time to come:  Although the Beresfords’ later adventures were eventually adapted for television, too, there was, alas, no continuation of the 1980s series starring Annis and Warwick.  Rather, the book series’s first and third entries (The Secret Adversary and N or M?) were included in a 2015 TV series starring Jessica Raine and David Williams, which moves the underlying time frame to the 1950s (a decade in which none of Christie‘s five Tommy and Tuppence books actually takes place); and the series’s fourth novel, By the Pricking of My Thumbs, was adapted in 2005 by French director Pascal Thomas under the title Mon petit doigt m’a dit …, starring Catherine Frot and André Dussollier, and thereafter (2006) rewritten as a Miss Marple story for the series starring Geraldine McEwan, whose Miss Marple essentially usurps Tommy’s character, though both Tommy and Tuppence, portrayed by Anthony Andrews and Greta Scacchi, are still featured; however, nowhere near true to the characters created by Agatha Christie. – Pity: I’d have hoped that modern TV makers would accord the Beresfords the same kind of respect  as they did to the Queen of Crime’s two greatest detectives, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, in the series starring David Suchet and Joan Hickson respectively. Alas, it seems that wasn’t to be.  All the more do I therefore treasure the incarnation that the book series’s first and most lighthearted two installments have found in this 1980s adaptation liberally sprinkled with the charm, wit and vivacity of Francesca Annis and James Warwick.

Partners in Crime: The Secret AdversaryEpisodes:
  • The Secret Adversary
  • The Affair of the Pink Perl
  • The House of Lurking Death
  • The Sunningdale Mystery
  • The Clergyman’s Daughter
  • Finessing the King
  • The Ambassador’s Boots
  • The Man in the Mist
  • The Unbreakable Alibi
  • The Case of the Missing Lady
  • The Crackler


     Partners in Crime: The Crackler   Partners in Crime: The Crackler


Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: London Weekend Television (LWT) / ITV (1983 – 1984)
  • Directors: Christopher Hodson / Paul Annett / Tony Wharmby
  • Producer: Jack Williams
  • Screenplays: Pat Sandys / Paul Annett / David Butler / Jonathan Hales / Gerald Savory
  • Based on books by: Agatha Christie
  • Music: Joseph Horovitz
Recurring Cast
  • Francesca Annis: Prudence “Tuppence” Beresford née Cowley
  • James Warwick: Tommy Beresford
  • Reece Dinsdale: Albert
  • Arthur Cox: Inspector Marriott

Partners in Crime: The Sunningdale MysteryPartners in Crime: The Sunningdale Mystery Partners in Crime: The Ambassador's BootsPartners in Crime: The Ambassador's Boots



 :  :  :  :