Never before have I been so repelled and fascinated at once by a book. This one is all about poisons and how they kill, using historical and contemporary murder cases as examples.
The poisons included are: insulin, atropine, strychnine, aconite, ricin, digoxin, cyanide, potassium, polonium, arsenic and chlorine. For each one, the author examines the history of each substance, describes how killers used it (and how the crime was proved, or not), how the poisons work at a molecular level and the treatment for victims of the poison.
Mostly the content is very interesting, although grim and not for the faint-hearted. It was depressing to discover how many deliberate poisoners were from the medical professions, using their knowledge of and access to substances and patients for evil deeds. I liked the discussions about the fine boundary between toxins and tonics, which had surprising revelations. I think this book would be very useful for writers of historical murder mysteries! It’s limited to examples from the UK and the US and is more about the science of poisons than the law, but it’s a good resource anyway.
The writing style wasn’t quite my cup of (not poisoned!) tea. It was somewhat repetitive and lacked the flair I look for in narrative non-fiction. I didn’t find the scientific explanations towards the end of each chapter to be very readable, so I tended to skip them. There are no images in the book, which is a pity.
If you’re interested in poisons (in an academic way, of course…) then it’s a must-read.
First published in 2022.