Thursday, December 28, 2017

All you need to know about Victorian poisonings

The Secret Poisoner: A Century of MurderThe Secret Poisoner: A Century of Murder by Linda Stratmann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book as part of my immersion in nineteenth century London and New York, and it had exactly what I needed to write an episode on a poisoning mystery. Poisonings were all the fad during the Victorian era since only a few poisons were traceable. It was an easy way knock off a rich relative who wasn't dying fast enough, a complaining wife, a drunken husband, the boss who fired you. It seems that the leading forensic scientists of the day were in a race with the more creative poisoners to identify especially plant-based poisons in human tissue.

I found the poison I intend to use, and I learned some of the procedures then used in the laboratories to separate the poison and identify it. The main obstacle to solving a poisoning was often the coroner, especially in nineteenth century New York. The position was a political appointment, and many were corrupt drunkards more interested in getting a payoff from the funeral home for the quick delivery of a body than performing a proper autopsy -- which they didn't know how to do anyway. If someone wanted a decent autopsy done, Bellevue Hospital was the only game in town. Hope I am not conflating this bit about coroners with another book...I've been speed reading so many of them for research lately. Anyway, highly recommend this one for Victorianageophiles.

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