Review: A Whiff of Death

A Whiff of DeathIsaac Asimov, A Whiff of Death

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.

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13 thoughts on “Review: A Whiff of Death

  1. Jay says:

    Hi Christina,
    I haven’t read a lot of Asimov, but have read some of his more famous works. I also read his cleverly titled autobiography, “I, Asimov,” which was great. I wanted to share, though, that several people have recommended to me his “Black Widower” tales, which are shorter “mysteries/detective stories.” I haven’t followed their advice yet, but in looking them up on line they do seem intriguing. Maybe you would like them.
    -Jay

    • Christina says:

      Thanks for the recommendation! The only Asimov I’ve read (aside from this book) is most of I, Robot for a class. But I’m definitely interested in reading more now!

  2. Katherine Nabity says:

    I love Asimov’s mysteries. Apocryphally, he started writing them because a fellow science fiction writer claimed that you couldn’t have a science fiction mystery. He wrote The Caves of Steel and proved them wrong. I haven’t heard of A Whiff of Death, but it sounds great.

  3. TracyK says:

    I did know that Asimov wrote detective novels, but never heard of this one until now. Very interesting, and that skull cover is wonderful. Thanks for the review.

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