Archive for the ‘ history ’ Category

The Poisoner’s Handbook

Cover of "The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder...

Cover via Amazon

I read The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Science in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum before the holidays, and loved it.  I don’t usually get into non-fiction books but this one may be sparking a new trend for me.  I stumbled onto this books while I was looking for books on detective fiction.  While not exactly about detective fiction, The Poisoner’s Handbook  is about the solving of real poison murders and the science that was developed to do it.   The detectives are two brilliant scientists who revolutionized the way we look at crime scenes, process crime scenes and the evidence that is presented in court.  Any fan of CSI owes a lot to these first forensic scientists.

Deborah Blum takes this bit of scientific history and makes it read like a story.  Everything comes to life.  not only does she describe the procedures but she also describes the cold and life of New York.  She did a lot of research before writing the book, even finding journal accounts of the weather and traffic and other events taking place during the murders. So not only are you seeing science come alive, but also 1920s New York, Prohibition, and even the speakeasies.

This book can be a bit gruesome at times and I advise to read it with a strong stomach.  But it’s also fascinating.  The radium poisoning stories are pretty crazy.  Before they knew it was a poisonous substance, women would dust it into the hair, on the skin, and even “Cheshire Cat” their teeth with it.  The shine and sparkle of it was irresistible.   Many people took Radium tonics to keep them healthy.  That is until their hair and teeth began to fall out.

If you like detective fiction, the roaring twenties, and crime scene analysis, or if you just like a good true story, pick this one up.   Blum will show you a glimpse of 1920s New York in gritty detail.

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