Tea, Tonic & Toxin

Sarah

Tea, Tonic, and Toxin is a book club and podcast for people who love mysteries, thrillers, introspection, and good conversation. Each month, your hosts, Carolyn Daughters and Sarah Harrison, will discuss a game-changing mystery or thriller, starting in 1841 onward. Together, we’ll see firsthand how the genre evolvedAlong the way, we’ll entertain ideas, prospects, theories, doubts, and grudges, along with the occasional guest. And we hope to entertain you, dear friend. We want you to experience the joys of reading some of the best mysteries and thrillers ever written.

The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, part 1
Nov 13 2022
The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, part 1
Tea, Tonic, and Toxin is a book club and podcast for anyone who loves mysteries and detective stories. We’re making our way through the 19th-century stories that helped the genre evolve. Next up: Fergus Hume’s 1886 novel, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. Australia’s first literary sensation, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide upon publication. Set in the charming and deadly streets of Melbourne, this thriller highlights class and social issues as a crime is committed by an unknown assassin.So Many Mysteries — Who is the dead man, why was he killed, who killed him, and is the man who killed him the same guy who hailed the hansom cab? And what is Brian Fitzgerald hiding? The complex plot has many twists and turns, along with several suspects and red herrings. And don’t forget the “exotic” setting. What are your thoughts about this Australian sensation?“One of the Cleverest of the Melbourne Detectives” — Mr. Gorby is the first detective we meet. Is he really “one of the cleverest of the Melbourne detectives”? What do you think of his process of detection and the conclusions he reaches? All the Other Detectives — Calton, Madge Frettlby, Fitzgerald, and Kilsip all play the role of detective in the story. What do you think of their detective work? How do they compare with Gorby?Was Nero a Pleasant Man? — The narrator says some see Nero’s cruelties as the result of an “overflow of high spirits and regard Henry VIII in the light of a henpecked husband unfortunate in the possession of six wives. These people delight in expressing their sympathy with great scoundrels of the Ned Kelly order. They view them as the embodiment of heroism, unsympathetically and disgracefully treated by the narrow understanding of the law. If one half the world does kick a man when he is down, the other half invariably consoles the prostrate individual with halfpence.” Thoughts?The Author’s Take on Women — Women love to shop for things they don’t want or need. Men can’t possibly understand women. Women prattle on and draw upon feminine instincts instead of reason. Women often suffer from brain fever caused by mental strain. Women’s highly strung nerves are the reason they age faster than men. How did these comments make you feel?The Insane Among Us — The doctor says “there are more mad people at large than the world is aware of. [T]here are many people … whose lives are one long struggle against insanity, and yet who eat, drink, talk, and walk with the rest of their fellow men, apparently as gay and lighthearted as they are.” The Land of Opportunity — Mark Frettlby came to Australia “determined to become a rich man.” Brian Fitzgerald “had that extraordinary vivacious Irish temperament, which enables a man to put all trouble behind his back, and thoroughly enjoy the present.” What were their lives like back in England and Ireland, and how did they become wealthy in Australia?The Class System — The novel points out the differences between fashionable Melbourne (including the Frettlbys), men of few means (Oliver Whyte and Roger Moreland), the working class (the hansom cab driver, the landlady, and Sal Rawlins), and “guttersnipes” (scruffy, badly behaved street urchins like Mother Guttersnipe). How did the narrator and characters feel about these class distinctions? How did you feel about them?
The Moonstone, Part 2
Nov 2 2022
The Moonstone, Part 2
This masterpiece includes a stolen Indian gem with a bloody past, plot twists, red herrings, a small circle of suspects, and a couple amazing detectives. It’s a serious page-turner. T. S. Eliot described The Moonstone as the “first … and greatest of modern English detective novels.” The story includes several features of contemporary detective fiction and helped establish many of the genre’s conventions.Betteredge references the promise of youth in his narrative. Franklin had promised to be tall, but he didn’t keep that promise. Penelope had promised to be beautiful, and she did keep that promise. What did your parents consider your “promise” as a child, and did you keep it? What sort of expectations do we place on children? Is it fair? Can we help it?2. The narrators often refer to themselves as superior to reason. Betteredge is superior to reason because he knows and loves the family he works for. Miss Clack is superior to reason because she believes her religion is on her side. Are these claims ridiculous, or do they have some merit?3. Miss Clack is clearly in love with Godfrey, though she disguises it with admiration for his Christian virtues. When have you deceived yourself over your true motivations?4. Let’s talk about the characters’ morality and motivations. Miss Clack is painted in a rather absurd light in the way she speaks about her genteel family members. She tries to get them to read tracts and books and participate in her bizarre charities. And she often seems misguided. And yet she has her points. 5. Her family does seem lazy and absurd, at least to the average working class Londoner. Why aren’t they concerned with helping others?6. The only one who participates in charitable efforts is Godfrey, and he’s seen as a bit of a shammy ladies man. Is he?7. And then there’s the doctor’s ridiculous recommendations not to exert oneself and only think of frivolous things. I agree with Miss Clack on the absurdity of that prescription. Did he only recommend such things to women? What should one think about as one nears the close of life?8. Was Wilkie Collins intending to merely portray Miss Clack as a hypocrite, or did he agree with her on some points? Does Collins seems to lack Dickens’ biting sarcasm over neglect of the poor?9. When Godfrey proposes to Rachel, he asks her, “Do you know many wives … who respect and admire their husbands? And yet they and their husbands get on very well. How many brides go to the altar with hearts that would bear inspection by the men who take them there? And yet it doesn’t end unhappily — somehow or other the nuptial establishment jogs on. The truth is, that women try marriage as a Refuge, far more numerously than they are willing to admit; and, what is more, they find that marriage has justified their confidence in it.” Whoa. Thoughts?10. Gabriel Betteredge has what he calls “detective-fever,” where the “horrid mystery hanging over us in this house gets into my head like liquor, and makes me wild.” Characters like Rosanna behave as though subconsciously intoxicated by outside forces. What are your thoughts about “detective-fever”?11. It’s implied at the beginning that the original perpetrator, John Herncastle, probably killed several Indians and stole their sacred moonstone, contrary to a direct command, under threat of death. No one could definitely prove it until he died and the moonstone came out of hiding to be bequeathed to Rachel. Then comes so much indecision, and plotting, and hiding, and suspecting the Indians of trying to get it back. At what point did it become British property? It was stolen, and the theft came to light when the thief died. Why wasn’t it returned to the Indians? Is this a representative example of historical looting?
The Moonstone, Part 1
Oct 21 2022
The Moonstone, Part 1
Tea, Tonic, and Toxin is a book club and podcast for anyone who loves mysteries and detective stories. We began with Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin stories, Dickens’ Bleak House, and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Next up: Collins’ 1868 novel, The Moonstone.This masterpiece includes a stolen Indian gem with a bloody past, plot twists, red herrings, a small circle of suspects, and a couple amazing detectives. It’s a serious page-turner. T. S. Eliot described The Moonstone as the “first … and greatest of modern English detective novels.” The story includes several features of contemporary detective fiction and helped establish many of the genre’s conventions.The Moonstone was originally published in 32 weekly parts in Charles Dickens’ magazine All the Year Round. How do you think this schedule affected the way Wilkie Collins structured the book and its chapters?2. Sarah loves when old books reference other old books. Gabriel Betteredge seems to use Robinson Crusoe as his bible. For example, he shares this quote: “Now I saw, though too late, the Folly of beginning a Work before we count the Cost, and before we judge rightly of our own Strength to go through with it.” He goes on to share many other quotes, including, “To-day we love what to-morrow we hate” and “Fear of Danger is ten thousand times more terrifying than Danger itself.” Why do you think the author chose Robinson Crusoe and these particular quotes? And do you have any books you revere and quote like this?3. Betteredge writes, “I am asked to tell the story of the Diamond, [and instead] I have been telling the story of my own self. … I wonder whether the gentlemen who make … a living out of writing books, ever find their own selves getting in the way of their subjects …?” In what ways do we bring ourselves into the stories we tell?4. Franklin Blake grew up in many homes and many nations. Rather than being wedded to any one philosophy or belief system, he continually asks questions and searches for the truth. Are you like him? Do you wish you were like him?5. Betteredge says gentlefolk have it tough because they spend their time searching for something to do. He says, “thank your stars that your head has got something it must think of and your hands something that they must do.” Do you agree? He also writes that “People in high life have … the luxury of indulging their feelings. People in low life have no such privilege. Necessity, which spares our betters, has no pity on us. We learn to put our feelings back into ourselves and to jog on with our duties …” Do you agree?6. Sherlock Holmes first appeared in print in 1887, nearly 20 years after The Moonstone. In what ways were Arthur Conan Doyle and other writers influenced by Wilkie Collins’ storytelling techniques and whip-smart detective Sergeant Cuff?7. In the 1799 family paper, John Herncastle’s cousin writes, “It is my conviction or my delusion … that crime brings its own fatality with it.” The story hinges on this idea. This line was also in The Woman in White. Fosco and Percival teased Laura and Marian about their morality. Is this a true saying? Do you identify with this idea? What do you believe? 8. Let’s talk about the women. The sanctimonious Miss Clack. The spirited Rachel Verinder, who’s “unlike other girls her age.” Rachel’s alter ego, the tragic Rosanna Spearman, an unattractive servant with a prison record and a physical disability who falls in love with a man outside her class. Rosanna writes, “Suppose you put Miss Rachel into a servant’s dress, and took her ornaments off”? Good question …
The Notting Hill Mystery
Jul 23 2022
The Notting Hill Mystery
The Notting Hill Mystery (1862-1863) is often called the first detective novel. In it, the wife of Baron R** dies after drinking acid. It looks like an accident until insurance investigator Ralph Henderson discovers that Baron R** took out several life insurance policies on her. From there, the plot continues to thicken. Readers see everything Henderson sees, including letters, diary entries, witness interviews, a marriage certificate, and a map of the crime scene. The New York Times Book Review called The Notting Hill Mystery “both utterly of its time and utterly ahead of it.”Had you ever heard of the Notting Hill Mystery before now? What parts felt dated? How might the story have been told differently today?The forensic techniques used to gather and analyze evidence in the story would have felt fresh and new to a 19th-century reading audience. Examples include diary entries, letters, and witness depositions. As the British Library notes, these innovative techniques “would not become common features of detective fiction until the 1920s.” Did you enjoy being able to review all of these materials? Did the forensic feel of the book interest you? Bore you?In Section VI, Ralph Henderson writes, “Unless the case can be made to stand out clearly, step by step, in all its details, from the commencement to the end, its isolated portions become at once a mere chaos of coincidences.” The case he builds leads to a “conclusion so at variance with all the most firmly established laws of nature” that, it seems almost impossible to accept. Did some parts of the case seem impossible for you to accept? Why?Some details are deemed immaterial to the story. For example, how and why was Rosalie kidnapped? Are we really meant to believe Baron R** really just met Rosalie by accident? To whom was Rosalie’s Notting Hill letter addressed (Section IV)? Would the housemaid Sarah really have fessed up to poisoning Madame R** to avoid being blamed for tasting marmalade? Did these details bother you, or did you willingly suspend your disbelief?Mesmerism is key to the novel. When direct manipulation isn’t possible (due to questions of propriety), Baron R** experiments with secondhand manipulation with the help of a medium named Rosalie. We see the power Baron R** wields, along with broader implications related to the sympathy of twins. In what ways does Henderson’s (and others like Dr. Marsden and Mrs. Ellis, the mesmerized sick nurse) disdain for and disbelief in mesmerism ultimately enable Henderson to build a strong case about mesmerism and twin connections?Secrecy plays a role in this story. Mrs. Anderton and those around her never mention the kidnapping of her twin sister. Mrs. Anderton also conceals the biweekly leaden taste in her mouth. No one tells Rosalie that she’s sleepwalking, and the housemaid Susan Turner doesn’t tell anyone what she and her beau witnessed even after Madame R** takes ill. In each case, this information is deemed too dangerous to share or too upsetting to hear. In what ways does the desire to “protect” others often lead to terrible outcomes?Catherine Boleton (Rosalie) is sold twice: once to Signor Leopoldo at the Olympian Circus for 5£ and once to Baron R** for 50£. Slavery was made illegal in England in 1807. The young “spinster” (see the marriage certificate) then marries Baron R**. What gives?START READING!
The Woman in White, part 2
Jun 19 2022
The Woman in White, part 2
In The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins tells the story of a woman locked away in an insane asylum. Well, sort of. This 1860 thriller is considered to be among the first mystery novels (along with Bleak House, among others) and among the first and finest sensation novels. The story includes a ghostly woman, a secret society, switched identities, foreign agents, paranoia, bribery, blackmail, and conspiracies. Seriously, what’s not to love? Count Fosco, “a man who could tame anything,” became the model of modern crime novel villains. Why are men like this so terrifying?Hartright says Marian is ugly: “Never was the fair promise of a lovely figure more startlingly belied by the face and head that crowned it. Her complexion was almost swarthy, and the dark down on her upper lip was almost a moustache.” In what way do her looks factor into the story being told?Marian is repelled by Fosco, who nonetheless “has attracted me, has forced me to like him.” Despite Marian’s looks, Fosco adores her. “At sixty, I worshipped her with the volcanic ardour of eighteen. All the gold of my rich nature was poured hopelessly at her feet.” Thoughts?Marian tells Laura, “Our endurance must end, and our resistance must begin to-day.” Marian climbs out a window and crosses the roof of the verandah – in the rain – to eavesdrop on Sir Percival and Count Fosco, which is pretty awesome. Why does Marian increasingly focus on revenge against Fosco as the novel progresses? In what ways does this fixation feel real and human? For all her admirable traits, Marian is a product of the 19th century. Many readers find her both inspiring and frustrating. How about you? At the end, Count Fosco calls Marian the “first and last weakness” of his life. In what ways does this admission feel real and human?Are Marian and Fosco the true protagonists of The Woman in White? How does the story end for Hartright, Marian, and Fosco?
The Woman in White, part 1
Jun 6 2022
The Woman in White, part 1
In The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins tells the story of a woman wrongfully locked away in an insane asylum. This 1860 thriller includes a ghostly woman, a secret society, switched identities, foreign agents, paranoia, bribery, blackmail, and conspiracies. What’s not to love?1.    Wilkie Collins has been called the creator of the sensation novel. The Woman in White includes a ghostly woman, switched identities, forged documents, bribery, drugging, spying, foreign agents, blackmail, lies, and conspiracies. What feels familiar about sensation novels? In what ways is the book a detective story?2.    In his preface to the 1860 edition, Collins wrote, “An experiment is attempted in this novel, which has not (so far as I know) been hitherto tried in fiction.” The story is told by the book’s characters. How did you feel about these diverse first-person narratives? What qualities does each narrator bring to the story? And how does everyone remember every minute detail of every conversation?3.    How do Frederick Fairlie, Sir Percival, Count Fosco, and Hartright each represent distinct styles of masculinity? Did these four men feel real to you?4.    How much power do women have in The Woman in White? In what ways are the women characters ideals of Victorian womanhood? Why do Hartright and Marian lie to Laura about their investigation? Why don’t Laura and Anne ever get to tell their own stories?)5.    Laura and Anne end up switching places, which is one of the book’s biggest plot points. What’s the deal with these asylums? Details, please! And how did you feel once Laura’s identity was restored?6.    When Hartright returns from Honduras, he fights to restore Laura’s identity, applying tactics he used “against suspected treachery in the wilds of Central America” in the “heart of civilised London.” How has he changed since the first time we met him? Why does he work outside society’s laws and conventions?
Bleak House: Part the Second.
May 18 2022
Bleak House: Part the Second.
In Bleak House, Charles Dickens’s tenacious criminal investigator, Inspector Bucket, is a London police detective who investigates a murder. Inspector Bucket and Poe’s amateur detective Auguste Dupin were the first professional criminal investigators in English literature.This is part two of a two part series, and covers chapter 32 to the end of the book. 1. Birthright: In Chapter 35, Esther says it’s “not the custom in England to confer titles on men unless they consisted of the accumulation of some very large amount of money.” Miss Flite thinks Allan Woodcourt should receive a title for saving people after his boat is shipwrecked. Esther agrees he deserves it but says he won’t get it.So let’s talk about privilege and birthright. “Privilege” might be defined as an advantage in life not enjoyed by all. “Birthright” might be defined as one’s rights from birth onward due to one’s inheritance—rights essentially conferred through an accident of birth. Bleak House is in many ways a story about birthrights. What are Jo’s, Charley’s, and Esther’s birthrights? What are the birthrights of Ada and Richard? What’s YOURS?2. The Many Forms of Neglect and Charity. Mrs. Jellyby neglects her family while she corresponds about far-off Africa. Mrs. Pardiggle brings her family with her everywhere and takes their money to support her efforts closer to home, going about lecturing the poor. Mr. Skimpole’s object of charity is himself. He neglects his family while thinking everyone should support his being “free.” Mr. Turveydrop considers his deportment a gift to family and society. He’s an object of charity, as he contributes nothing, working his wife and son into illness so he can live in the way he pleases. Sir Leicester Dedlock considers hiring Rosa as Lady Dedlock’s servant to be a form of charity and patronage, as does Rosa herself. Yet Mr. Rouncewell finds this patronage insufficient for the wife of his son, and he proposes that she be sent to Europe to finish her education. Thoughts?3. Mrs. Bagnet is “that rare sort of old girl that she receives Good to her arms without a hint that it might be Better; and catches light from any little spot of darkness near her.” Do you know people like Mrs. Bagnet? Are you yourself like Mrs. Bagnet?