The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum

Fellow C.S.I. fans? I’ve found a book for you.
In New York in the early 1900s, it was awfully easy to murder someone. Poisons were difficult to detect in autopsy, and many poor souls killed by poison were ruled to have natural deaths. Murderers could walk away without much fear of being caught. That is, until New York’s chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler decided to invest much of their time and money into solving these crimes and becoming expert criminologists.
One of the most interesting things about this era is how utterly dangerous life was.  Many poisons could be easily found on a pharmacy shelf. Some were being sold by doctors as medicinal cures. Prohibition made toxic wood alcohol a hot commodity, and hundreds of people died from getting a bad cocktail in a speakeasy. Cars and household appliances emitted toxic levels of carbon monoxide and other dangerous gasses. Deborah Blum truly captures the look and feel of the era and it’s very easy to immerse yourself in this book.
Blum breaks the book into chapters named after poisons, such as cyanide, arsenic, and radium. Each chapter discusses a crime committed using that poison, and how Norris and Gettler, or their colleagues, cracked the case. The crimes are often as shocking and tawdry as anything you’d see on daytime dramas today, and it’s such fun to read the scandalous tales. If you liked Devil in the White City, this is a great read-a-like.

Find a copy in the library catalog.


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