Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The Secret Poisoner by Linda Stratmann

Linda Stratmann combines her work as a crime novelist with the publication of non-fiction, and her latest title, The Secret Poisoner, recently appeared under the imprint of Yale University Press. In her capacity as membership secretary and committee member of the CWA, Linda is both industrious and highly efficient, and these very positive qualities are reflected in her book, which is packed with the evidence of her extensive research.

The sub-title is "A Century of Murder", and naturally, given the subject matter, the central focus is on the many poisoning cases of the nineteenth century, although there is also some consideration at the end of twentieth century cases - including that of Graham Young, famed as a thallium poisoner -and one case that is even more recent, involving the use of a plant toxin called abrin.

Linda's past career includes a spell as a chemist's dispenser, and the book is testament to her grasp of the scientific technicalities of poisoning (I once attended a fascinating talk she gave about chloroform, the subject of one of her earlier books). But she's also interested, very properly, in the stories behind the cases of murder and attempted murder that she chronicles, as well as in the rivalry between some of the leading toxicologists of the past.

One notable feature of the book is that she is not content simply to focus on the well-known cases. So although we have plenty about Palmer of Rugeley, Christiana Edmunds, and Adelaide Barlett, there is less about Madeleine Smith and nothing about Florence Maybrick. Instead there is discussion of a host of cases that were previously unknown to me, and these I found particularly interesting. She also relates her material to developments in the law (for instance, at one time it was profitable to insure children and then murder them, a horrid kind of villainy that was eventually addressed by legislation). For anyone interested in the history of poisoning cases, this fact-crammed volume will surely prove indispensable.


lyn said...

I've just borrowed this from the library & am looking forward to it.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Thanks Martin - not a title I would normally have looked at but sounds really interesting.