An Air that Kills by Christine Poulson

published 2019

[Katie, undercover as lab tech Caitlin, has been invited to a Burns Night supper]

The invitation had stipulated evening dress. She had fretted about what to wear in her persona as Caitlin and in the end she had consulted Julia at the detective agency. She had drawn the line at wearing a jumpsuit, which was what Julia had said was “very on-trend”. They had compromised and Katie was wearing chiffon trousers in petrol blue, with a satin stripe down the side and a halter-neck top to match. Julia had rushed them to her by special delivery, along with a pair of what were apparently called sock boots – who knew? They turned out to be a kind of ankle boot with very high spike heels in glittery
green. Not for the first time Katie thought, My own mother wouldn’t recognize me, as she examined herself in the mirror.

She had been relieved to see that everyone else was also dressed up to the nines. Tarquin was looking terrific in Scottish evening dress: a kilt and sporran, a black evening jacket and black bow-tie, and knee socks with well-polished black brogues.

comments: Regular readers of Clothes in Books will know that Chrissie Poulson is a good friend of mine – we originally met online and bonded over a shared love of crime fiction, but also over my love for her books. So while this is an honest and objective post on her new one – well, it’s hardly surprising that I loved it, as I have all her books.

This is the third in her latest series featuring medical researcher Katie Flanagan: Deep Water and Cold, Cold Heart both featured on the blog. And the books are just getting better - Katie’s adventures on the Antarctic Research Station were totally compelling, and I described Cold, Cold Heart as ‘beautifully structured, eerie and atmospheric, but also funny and very convincing’. And now this one has an equally good setup, and is a triumph.

Katie is back from the Antarctic and at a loose end, so agrees to go undercover in a scientific research lab in Devon. One of the top investors, recurring character Lyle Lustrum, is worried there is something funny going on. The scientists are looking at viruses, at malaria, at disastrous possibilities of cross-species transgenics. There are mosquitos (safe and infected) supposedly safely stored. There is a high turnover of staff: what is wrong at Debussy Point?

As before I am astonished and impressed at the depth of Chrissie’s research – it’s not pushed in your face, but used exactly and carefully to move the plot along.

The book is a fantastic combination of traditional crime story tropes – the island cut off, the closed group of people - and the impressive scientific content. Let me count the ways I loved it: there is impersonation and re-invention as Katie pretends to be a different kind of employee (a feature I always LOVE in any book – see some examples on the blog here and here).
As Katie she wouldn’t have been up for [karaoke], but as Caitlin she absolutely was. Caitlin was more fun-loving and extrovert than Katie. Caitlin might even join the poker school! What to wear? She looked through her clothes [which are part of her re-invention, chosen for her new character] and selected a hot-pink silk shirt topped by a denim jacket.

There are definite nods to the Queen, Agatha Christie: the island off the coast is a key one. Here it is north Devon rather than south, but the echoes of And Then There Were None, and Evil Under the Sun, and the real-life Burgh Island are all there.

We glimpse the murderer’s thoughts now and again (Chrissie says it is a nod to Christie’s Towards Zero) and that was tremendously creepy. The atmosphere generally was very well done – she is always good on group dynamics, the good, the bad and the amusing.

I will say that the descriptions of the insects were just about on the right side of what I was willing to read: for those more squeamish than I, avoid pp 115-116 where one of the researchers feeds the mosquitoes with his own blood… But the insects do not dominate!

And overall this was a great way of doing GA style and entertainment with modern ideas.

In addition, Chrissie has a scene at the Ritz cocktail bar in London, which very alert readers may remember was something I (generously and selflessly) helped her research – thank goodness she didn’t ask me to help out with the insect scenes.

And she has always had great clothes in her books, but I like to think that knowing me has made her even more attentive to the details…

Katie’s evening clothes sounded very much like the brand Meandem, who do lovely things - I feel Katie’s outfit was a cross between the two above, colour of one, style of the other.

Agatha Christie’s ‘island’ stories featured in a blogpost I did on the best and worst Christie holidays to sign up for. And for more from and about Chrissie, including our cross-blogging adventures, click on the label below. 


  1. How kind of you, Moira, to help in that research! The way you give of yourself! I'm not surprised you enjoyed this as well as you did. Christine a highly skilled writer, and this is a great series. So lovely to see it highlighted here.

    1. Do you know what Margot? I truly believe that you are a selfless person who would help out with research like this, for either Chrissie or me. I'm sure you would, and one day maybe we will get the chance to help each other!

  2. I am very glad to see this review but I only read a few paragraphs at the beginning. I have already pre-ordered it here and will get it Jan. 20 or close to that. So I will come back and read more of your thoughts then. I know you would not spoil the book, but I am obsessive about knowing as little of the plot as possible. I am looking forward to reading this latest book in the series.

    1. Quite right Tracy - of course I wouldn't spoiler, but - like you - I prefer to know as little as possible and to uncover the setup as well as the plot step by step. I don't even read the back covers of books if possible. And - I'm sure you will love this one.

  3. You've sold me on this one. Just when I had decided I would buy no more new books. So thanks a lot! (snicker, snicker)


Post a Comment