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A Whiff of Death. by Isaac Asimov

A Whiff of Death. (original 1958; edition 2000)

by Isaac Asimov

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Title:A Whiff of Death.
Authors:Isaac Asimov
Info:Walker & Co (2000), Hardcover
Collections:Your library

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A Whiff of Death by Isaac Asimov (1958)



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Professor Louis Brade is a middle-aged chemistry professor whose biggest problem is his ongoing struggle for tenure. But his life gets much more complicated when one of his students, Ralph Neufeld, is found dead in the research lab. Outward signs point to an accident; Ralph was preparing an experiment at the time, and he might have accidentally used a poisonous chemical instead of the identical-looking harmless one. But Professor Brade knows that Ralph was a meticulous chemist who would never have made such a mistake. He is reluctant to voice his suspicion that Ralph was murdered, however -- especially when it becomes clear that Brade himself is a promising suspect. Can Brade discover the cause of Ralph's death, clear his name, and avoid becoming the murderer's next victim?

I was surprised and delighted to discover that Isaac Asimov also wrote detective novels! And I have to say, I was very impressed with this mystery. I enjoyed the academic setting, and although chemistry plays a large role in the story, it's very easy for non-scientists to follow as well. I also liked Brade as a main character, mostly because of how normal he is compared to other fictional detectives: He's an intelligent but not brilliant professor, and he has a happy-ish marriage that nevertheless has its fair share of conflict. Finally, I really loved the policeman in this case, whose breezy manner conceals a very sharp mind. The interplay between the policeman and Brade was one of my favorite parts of the book. Overall, I'd definitely recommend this to fans of older mysteries, and I plan to look for more of Asimov's detective stories.
  christina_reads | Oct 5, 2013 |
[2010-07-25] A university chemistry lecturer finds one of his PhD students dead in the lab. At first glance it looks like an unfortunate accident with a bottle of cyanide, but it's clear to Lou Brade that his student was murdered -- and that he's the one who had the best opportunity to do it. Lou has a strong motive to find the killer before the police fix on *him* as the prime suspect, but to do so he has to navigate the office politics that could be just as deadly to his career as an outright accusation of murder.

Published in 1958, this is now a period piece and very much of its time in its social attitudes. But it's still a good read, both in spite and because of that, nicely dissecting the ruthlessness of the academic life. Asimov constructed his story well, and while the habits of chemists and their materials are an essential part of the plot and the story is permeated with chemistry, you don't need to know any chemistry yourself to follow the story or to work out whodunnit.

http://julesjones.livejournal.com/397948.html ( )
  JulesJones | Dec 18, 2010 |
Something of a novelty: a murder mystery set in a chemistry lab, and a story where almost nobody realizes that a murder has been committed. The first two-thirds of the book are rather psychological, however, and deal more with the protagonist’s reactions to events affecting him than with the murder itself. This makes for a somewhat slow introduction, but the pace picks up as the story comes to its denouement. ( )
  baroquem | Aug 5, 2008 |
Ralph Neufeld -- research student in chemistry. Found dead in his laboratory. Accident? The police say it is.
Louis Brade, his professor thinks otherwise. But who could have done it? There's only one other key to the lab, and that belongs to -- Professor Brade.
The only person who knows a murder has been committed is also the most likely suspect. So he sets out to find the murderer himself. Quickly. Before the police realise it couldn't have been an accident.
A WHIFF OF DEATH is no ordinary crime story. For its author is Isaac Asimov, the world's most popular science fiction writer. No prizes, then, for guessing that the solution turns on a technical point as ingenious as it is bizarre.
  rajendran | Feb 10, 2008 |
A murder mystery set in a chemistry lab. Asimov knows his science but this is pure mystery novel, right down to the Colombo-like detective (and he wrote it in 1958). ( )
  stpnwlf | Jul 16, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Isaac Asimovprimary authorall editionscalculated
Caras, PeterCover Artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Death sits in the chemistry laboratory and a million people sit with him and don't mind.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A Whiff of Death was originally published as The Death Dealers.
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