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A Dram of Poison

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  323 ratings  ·  72 reviews
A longtime bachelor finally loves—only to suffer corrosive jealousy

For five decades, Kenneth Gibson lives quietly, now teaching poetry to undergrads. His life is comfortable and dull, until he meets and marries helpless Rosemary 32. Cared for, her depression fades, his wan wife gains bouncy beauty and vigorous health. He falls in love. But does she?

After a car accident, h
Paperback, 160 pages
Published January 28th 1989 by International Polygonics (first published 1956)
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I am engaged in a (slow) project to read all the Edgar Award winning Best Novels, starting with the first in 1954. #4 was Charlotte Armstrong's A DRAM OF POISON. I had been seeing Charlotte Armstrong's name on bookshelves since I first got into the adult section of the library, but I don't believe I'd ever read one of her books. Now I think I'll read some more!
This was the first of the books that I have really enjoyed, even though it still didn't fit the classic detective story paradigm. The L
Sep 30, 2015 rated it liked it
I'm astonished to discover from the Goodreads page that this won an Edgar as Best Mystery Novel of the Year. For one thing, it really is not up to Edgar standard and for another, well, by no stretch of the imagination is it a mystery. Basically, if you love Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's work, you might quite like this.

After the death of an elderly colleague, reclusive middle-aged poetry prof Kenneth Gibson assists the deceased's wallflower daughter, Rosemary, in the tidying up of the estate. She se
COUNTDOWN: Mid-20th Century North American Crime
BOOK 223 (of 250)
HOOK=2: Opening lines:
' "The tall man switched on the light. "I wont be a minute," he said. The short man looked around the room, which was a laboratory. He ambled over to gaze, without understanding, at some apparatus.' Eventually on page one there's a discussion of poisons in the lab, and as the saying goes, if 'you show a gun, you have to use the gun' in literature, stage plays, etc. There will be poison, but oh, it's a long wa
Feb 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
A Dram of Poison by Charlotte Armstrong was originally published in 1956 and was a unique, interesting story. Armstrong's writing reminds me of other female authors I've enjoyed of a similar time-frame; Dorothy Salisbury Davis, Helen MacInnis, Margaret Millar. Different types of stories in some cases but just a similar feel.

I found this a fascinating story. It takes a bit to get going but as the story progresses, it gets more and more interesting. Mr. Gibson is a poetry professor at a small Cali
Justin Chen
Feb 20, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 stars

I thought I was picking up a thrilling 'against the clock' story filled with close calls and devious intentions, but instead A Dram of Poison is unexpectedly lighthearted, with a cast of quirky (rather than shady) characters, and a focus on philosophical discussion rather than intricate mystery—and I'm surprisingly all for it!

The book definitely starts slow; its synopsis covers 40% of its page count, and the central incident doesn't kick into gear until halfway through. While I appreciate
Lady Delacour
Curious Story.
3.9 Unusual Stars.
TTS Listen.
Mild Language.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mystery, dads
A short, slow-to-start mystery with some great characters, a gentle, untypical love story and even a bit of philosophy.

Kenneth Gibson, 55, teaches English at a small college and has just married for the first time. His wife Rosemary is only 32. You might say she was a damsel in distress and he rushed to her rescue. Anyway, that's how his sister Ethel describes it.

They've only been married 5 weeks when they're in a car wreck. Of course, says Ethel, though Rosemary was driving, she was not to blam
Carla Remy
Feb 27, 2016 rated it liked it
I found this slow in the beginning, with uninteresting characters. It got better, but still, suspenseless for an award winning mystery. From 1956.
David Rickert
Jun 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
They don't really make books like this any more. There was absolutely nothing offensive about it, no one died, and it was funny and light-hearted in parts. It was the equivalent of a G rated movie, or one of the movies from the fifties that was made before the ratings system was in place. It would have made a terrific movie back then; not sure anyone would make a story now where so little is at stake. Anyway, I'm intrigued enough by this one to want to read more of her books. ...more
Nov 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Armstrong uses a high concept suspense story (a deadly poison left on a public bus in a misleadingly labeled bottle) as the flimsiest of excuses for a long, almost Platonic conversation on free will, predestination, truth, poetry and the uses and misuses of psychology. Civilized, literary, humorous, with some memorable characterization, cleverly observed and roundly phrased. A most pleasant surprise.
Paula Brandle
Jan 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a silly beautiful little book!

Read in two hours. It has all the right pieces. Peace beauty and love at heart. Optimistic and good. Read it.
Ashley Lambert-Maberly
Great fun, and one of the most surprising books I've read, and not in the way you might assume (given that it's ostensibly a mystery).

Somehow I thought it would be one of those mid-century modern dry character studies where someone slowly goes mad, or someone ruthlessly murders someone and then tries to escape detection (from their vantage point, like a Highsmith), or there's just this increasing feeling of disquiet and you know something bad's going to happen but it likely won't happen to the l
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
After a rough first chapter that reads like a poor translation, this settles into an intriguing set-up that had me eager to find out where it was heading... Would the husband poison the neighbour who catches his wife's eye? Would the wife and neighbour poison the husband to get him out of the way? Would the husband and wife poison the husband's sister, a manipulator who is driving them apart?

None of the above, not at all what I predicted, in the worst way possible. The second half of the novel
May 23, 2019 rated it did not like it
I don't even know how to classify this book other than "garbage." ...more
Patrick Balester
May 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Take A Deep Sip From "A Dram of Poison"

A Dram of Poison won the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1957, and after reading this novel, it's easy to see why. It's a complex tale of love, disappointment, jealousy, and carelessness that leads to catastrophe. Not your traditional whodunnit, but a story packed with so much suspense you had better read it on your day off, or consider calling in sick. Once you've reached a certain point, there is no stopping until the final page has been turned.

Trouble isn'
Sep 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: mystery fans

This mystery won the Edgar Award in 1957. It is unusual in that it is also a love story and a psychological portrait of a man finding his true nature.

Kenneth Gibson is a fifty-five year old bachelor leading a dull but comfortable and well-ordered life as a teacher. He is prone to helping people, especially fairly helpless characters. He takes on Rosemary, newly widowed and drowning in the fear of being alone. His attitude toward her is in a Henry Higgins mode but eventually they fall in love,
Jun 05, 2010 rated it liked it
Kenneth Gibson teaches poetry at a local college. He meets Rosemary when her father, a fellow teacher, dies. He helps her go through his papers and tries to lift her spirits. They get married to keep her out of the poor house and soon find a real relationship. One night they have a car accident and Kenneth is seriously hurt. His sister comes to stay with them and help out but instead she takes over. Soon no one is happy and that is where the dram of poison comes into the story. Kenneth had meant ...more
Aug 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars It's atypical of the "mystery" genre for which it won the 1957 Edgar. It's a sweet little story, but it doesn't precisely fit into a genre. There is a love story and page-turner quality. But it is far from a sweep-you-off-your-feet "romance," and the "suspense" is only mild. Still it is pleasant, simple, and yet unexpected story. I adored the characters and how they worked together.

It felt late-'50s/early-'60s TV; like an exceptionally cozy Twilight Zone or Hitchcock Hour.

Omnibus: The
Robert Schneider
Jul 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
What an interesting book. I'm not sure what to classify it as. The cover calls it a mystery, but I'm not sure. There is no murder as is so popular in mysteries now-a-days. There is a theft but everyone knows who did it so that's not the mystery. Maybe the mystery is of life? Hmm, anyways, the book does start off rather slow. Charlotte Armstrong takes her time in setting up the characters and by the time you get to the halfway point and the story kicks into high gear you really know and understan ...more
Oliver Clarke
Jan 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved the second half of this so much it’s hard to review it without giving it away, but I’ll do my best. It’s a thriller rather than a mystery, about a rather drab university professor and a young woman he gets involved with. After an initial scene involving a discussion of poison which tips the reader off that there is fun to be had later, the story proceeds at a gentle pace and is in danger of plodding a little until the mid-way point when a wonderful plot turn switches the tale into a desp ...more
Jan 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
Not what I expected. I read a copy with a completely plain hardcover, but from the cover of the paperback shown here -- and the Edgar Award -- I thought I was in for a noir mystery. I mean, dig that trenchcoat! It turns out to be sweetly suspenseful domestic story. But maybe because it was so unexpected, I liked it a lot. I could have done with a little less adorable homespun philosophy from a couple of the characters, but I loved the sly humor and the characterization of a completely decent man ...more
Barbara Gordon
Jan 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Not quite what is says on the cover, but a good read nonetheless. Kindly academic marries bereaved and penniless young woman, more from generosity and pity than any romantic expectation. Much to their mutual surprise, they do slowly fall in love, but after a crippling accident, their happiness is jeopardised by guilt, suspicion and despair. Then an attempted suicide leads to a tense and hilarious chase that gathers both momentum and participants.
Armstrong's compassion shines through in this book
Read about a third of this waiting for the mystery to kick but still haven't haven't gotten to the poison (except in the bait-and-switch frame narrative). I do prefer mysteries with some psychological dimension, but am bored of this heavy-handed character building at the expense of plot. Too bad, because I do find Professor Whatisname sympathetic... ...more
Oct 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1940s1950s
Perfect vintage suspense, which I especially loved because of its big dash of Davy Rothbart-style "human snowball" at the end. Completely charming (and also the winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1957). ...more
Tom Kammerer
Oct 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: edgars
Delightful, warm, funny, and suspenseful muster to boot! Can picture a Cary Grant era movie based on story
Jack Heath
Synopsis: Kenneth Gibson teaches poetry. He meets 32 year-old Rosemary. Is it love or something else?
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. First, it had the psychological suspense aspect you find in a Ruth Randell book. You know that sense of building tension that keeps you turning pages long after you figured it was time to go to bed. However, she manages to do it, without the permeating sense of darkness that seems to inhibit all of Ruth Rendell's books. You will like these character's. You will hope for the best. Well, all except for one and it won't take you long to guess which one. But how does she ...more
Glen U
Apr 07, 2020 rated it liked it
"A Dram of Poison" was the Edgar Award winner in 1957 signifying it was the best mystery novel of that year. It is an unusual book in that it has no murder, a contemplated suicide and a minor theft yet it holds the audience's interest extremely well. It is dated, as mentions of "the bomb" and the subconscious mind are prevalent, but on the whole it holds up very well. Compelling and suspenseful, with fully developed characters, Charlotte Armstrong brings an excellent book to the reading masses w ...more
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Full name Charlotte Armstrong Lewi. Wrote 29 novels, plus short stories and plays under the name Charlotte Armstrong and Jo Valentine. Additional writing jobs: New York Times (advertising department), Breath of the Avenue (fashion reporter). ...more

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