The Poison Oracle

Peter Dickinson  - published September 2013

September 10, 2013 · trade paper · $16 · 978-1-61873-065-7 | ebook · $9.95 · 978-1-61873-066-4

“I think Peter Dickinson is hands down the best stylist as a writer and the most interesting storyteller in my genre.”
—Sara Paretsky, author of 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 communication, and then add a touch of chaos in the person of Dinah: a chimpanzee who has begun to learn to form coherent sentences with plastic symbols.

When a murder is committed in the oil-rich marshes, Dinah is the only witness, and Morris has to go into the marshes to discover the truth. The Poison Oracle is a novel of its time that uses the everyday language people use to expose humanity’s thinking and unthinking cruelties to one another and to the animals with whom we share this earth.

Includes an author interview carried out by Sara Paretsky.

Peter Dickinson: “Flukes and Good Guesses

Audio rights sold to Audible.

Praise for The Poison Oracle:

“Dickinson’s crime novels are simply like no other; sophisticated, erudite, unexpected, intricate, English and deeply, wonderfully peculiar.”
—Christopher Fowler, author of The Memory of Blood

“I have no idea if any of this talk and action is authentic, and I don’t care. Either way it’s marvellous.”—Rex Stout

“Intelligent, elegantly written . . . a thoroughly enjoyable read.”—Sunday Times

Dickinson’s faceted intelligence provides thoughtful pauses along with the more traditional thriller accoutrements in this provocative tale of the Sultanate of Q’Kut, a tiny oil rich country where Arabs and primitive Marshmen coexist under an ancient treaty. When greed for the oil under the marshes begins to unravel the bond, a British psycholinguist, his experimental chimpanzee and a nubile young terrorist are caught up in the crosscultural currents. A complex dazzler with an extra gene of anthropological authenticity.Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“. . . the story is unique, ingenious, and full of surprises.”—Publishers Weekly

“Were there, as in chess, a brilliancy prize for crime action, this should win it . . . Dickinson’s best book.” —Observer

“Intelligent, elegantly written . . . a thoroughly enjoyable read.”—Sunday Times

The Poison Eaters
Chapter One

WITH AS MUCH passion as his tepid nature was ever likely to generate, Wesley Morris stared at Dinah through the observation window. He thought she looked incredibly beautiful, leaning against the heavy wire mesh on the far side, and watching the main group with that air of surprise which Morris knew to mean that she was apprehensive. She looked healthier than most of the others; her coarse black hair had a real sheen to it, and her eyes were bright with vitality.

The others were in a listless mood, though they ought by now to have got over the shock of their arrival; only Murdoch’s baby showed much life, making little exploratory forays away from his mother. Sparrow was gazing with sullen intensity at the air-conditioner; perhaps its thin whine got on his nerves; he couldn’t know how carefully it had been adjusted to produce a temperature and humidity at which he would thrive. The rest merely lolled and slouched. The darkening caused by the one-way glass in the observation window softened the concrete tree-trunks and metal branches, and gave the whole scene the look of a forest glade. Morris was both pleased and disturbed by this illusion of nature.

“Sparrow looks pretty unintelligent,” murmured the Sultan. “

“I don’t know,” said Morris.

“In fact I think he looks decidedly thick. Thicker even than Rowse.”

“You can’t judge them by Dinah—she’s exceptional.”

“So what? If she chooses one of the thick ones . . .”

“It doesn’t work like that. The odds are she’ll be completely promiscuous—she’s just made that way. When she has kids you’ll never know who the fathers were.”

The Sultan knew this perfectly well, but something in his heredity or culture made it hard for him to imagine a set-up in which the males were dominant but did not have exclusive rights to individual females. (Morris had to keep explaining the point to him.)

“Then we ought to start weeding out the thick ones,” he said. Morris recognised in his tone the dangerous moment when a notion was about to harden into a fiat.

“We don’t know which are the thick ones yet,” he protested. “I’ll try to set up a few tests, if I can think of how to do it without mucking up the whole idea. We’ve got plenty of time—Dinah won’t reach puberty for at least a year, so . . .”

“Can’t we speed it up, my dear fellow? Listen, down in the marshes they know a few things that your puritanical scientists have never caught on to. Some of the local aphrodisiacs . . .”

“Certainly not,” snapped Morris.

. . .

Praise for Peter Dickinson’s mysteries:

“He is the true original, a superb writer who revitalises the traditions of the mystery genre . . . incapable of writing a trite or inelegant sentence . . . a master.”—P. D. James

“He sets new standards in the mystery field that will be hard to live up to.”—Ruth Rendell

“He has an eye and a mind and a voice like no other.”—Donald E. Westlake

“A fresh triumph . . . a simultaneous insight into kids and their minders, and emerging nations, and the concept of freedom—all done with consummate storytelling skill.”—Peter Lovesey

“Brilliantly imaginative first detective story . . .wonderfully convincing.”—The Observer

“Mr Dickinson is the most original crime novelist to appear for a long, long time.”—The Guardian

“Brilliantly original, as always.”—Times Literary Supplement

“Wry, witty, irresistible.”—The Financial Times

“A literary magician controlling an apparently inexhaustible supply of effects . . . Craftsmanship such as this makes for compulsive reading.”—Penelope Lively

Peter Dickinson OBE has twice received the Crime Writers’ Association’s Gold Dagger as well as the Guardian Award and Whitbread Prize. His fifty novels include Death of a Unicorn and A Summer in the Twenties. His latest book is a collection, Earth and Air: Tales of Elemental Creatures (Big Mouth House). He lives in England and is married to the novelist Robin McKinley.