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The Poison Oracle
 
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Peter Dickinson
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The Poison Oracle

3.40  ·  Rating Details  ·  62 Ratings  ·  10 Reviews
"I think Peter Dickinson is hands down the best stylist as a writer and the most interesting storyteller in my genre."
—Sara Paretsky (Breakdown)

Take a medieval Arab kingdom, add a ruler who wants to update the kingdom’s educational facilities, include a somewhat reserved English research psycholinguist (an Oxford classmate of the ruler) invited to pursue his work on animal
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Hardcover, Large Print, 352 pages
Published December 31st 1984 by Chivers Press (first published April 28th 1974)
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Zoë
Dec 30, 2011 Zoë rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I can count on one hand the number of times I've given up on a book, and unfortunately I had to add one to that number with this book. I'd recently read The Seventh Raven (another Peter Dickinson book) and I'd liked it well enough, so I picked this one up thinking I was going to enjoy it. Boy, was I wrong. It didn't take too long for me to get bored, and the plot was just a bunch of nonsense thrown together. Then there was the racism–that was pretty much the last straw. I got 85 pages in (a mira ...more
Kat
An odd read. I'm not sure what to make of it. In places, it seems less like a mystery novel and more like an exercise in applied linguistics. There are four language systems in play here. The syntax of two of them is described in detail. (There's even a random footnote at one point about the syntax.) These linguistic systems seem to be more important to the story itself than the mystery. As I read through the book, I kept wanting to reclassify it as perhaps an allegory about... something? It see ...more
Violinknitter
A fascinating, if disturbing, read. Yes, the British protagonist from whose point of view the story is told has most (if not all) of the race & class prejudices one would expect from someone raised in the British Empire while it was still an empire. But the story is a bleak tale: *none* of the three cultures in the story are portrayed positively. Even chimpanzee culture (debateably the fourth culture in the novel) is bleak. We see the Arab & marsh people's cultures through Morris' eyes, ...more
Tyrannosaurus regina
Feb 07, 2015 Tyrannosaurus regina rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
Under other circumstances I might have enjoyed this book more—I like mysteries and I love linguistic complications—but it was just unbearably racist.
William
Definitely one of the weirder murder mysteries I have ever read. Fascinating and not complementary description of Arabic beduin people living next door to a black primitive swamp people. All as seen by a naive English scientist of linguistics and zoology. Mixed in is a crazy radical sexually promiscuous English female. Very different approaches to life from each of the different groups. On top of that is a chimpanzee trying to learn to communicate with the scientist through the use of symbols to ...more
Carol Miller
Jan 21, 2015 Carol Miller rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Peter Dickinson's work is always enjoyable. The premise of this story is similar to "Walking Dead" in some ways, but it has its own flavor. I take minor issue with the definition, early in the book, of psycholinguistics as the study of the effect of language on the mind--that is not quite accurate. And I'm pretty sure the language of the marshmen is not really plausible. But the marsh language and the education of the Dinah, the chimp, are interesting to think about all the same
Jenne
Feb 06, 2010 Jenne rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
First line: "With as much passion as his tepid nature was ever likely to generate, Wesley Morris stared at Dinah through the observation window."

Well, in 1974 this might have been an amusing little mystery novel, but today it just reads as atrociously racist.
Too bad, because I love the idea of a psycholinguist as hero!
Lila Kitaeff
Apr 20, 2008 Lila Kitaeff rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: assholes
This was tough to get through. The murder mystery itself was mildly interesting but the overtones of colonialism and racism were sickening. The apes being studied seem to be treated with more humanity than the Arabs and Marshmen in this book. Ouch.
Tony
Apr 16, 2013 Tony rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I found this a bit disappointing and confusing really, although it was a pretty quick read.
Laurie
Feb 18, 2009 Laurie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This man makes me proud to be classified as a mystery writer.
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5345
Peter Malcolm de Brissac Dickinson OBE FRSL (born 16 December 1927) was a prolific English author and poet, best known for children's books and detective stories.

Peter Dickinson lived in Hampshire with his second wife, author Robin McKinley. He wrote more than fifty novels for adults and young readers. He won both the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Children's Award twice, and his novel The Blue
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