Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Secret Poisoner – Linda Stratmann

Non-Fiction 4*s
Non-Fiction
4*s

Well this is the book you want to read if you are interested, as I am, in poisoners through time and The Secret Poisoner concentrates mainly on those who made it to trial in the nineteenth century.

This isn’t just a book about the alleged poisoners and their possible victims though, it is about the birth of the expert witness, the different poisons available to both the typical poisoner; the wife, the servant or the offspring in hope of money but also those most feared of poisoners the medical men who did away with their patients under the guise of healing them and the judges who sentenced the perpetrators of this ‘cowardly crime’

There were various reasons for committing this particular crime and although the book doesn’t go into much detail as to the cause this book captures four cases that detail servants with a grudge against their employers, six poisoners who wanted to do away with inconvenient spouses or relatives and seven people who committed the crime for financial gain and these are just those who used the most common poison of the early nineteenth century, arsenic. The description of the death by this particular poison is gut-wrenching, although not as bad as for the poor victims!

The book also touches on the use of other poisons too, in particular laudanum which was the most common poison used on children, sometimes as an accidentally large dose to keep the little one quiet, but far more disquieting was those parents who used this drug to access the insurance taken out on their offspring’s lives.

This is a comprehensive book, with information about the scientists who devised tests for detecting poison in the body of the deceased, these tests were often demonstrated in court by the experts, many of whom it appeared were playing their own game of one-upmanship sometimes with disastrous consequences. Sadly the descriptions of the tests themselves had me no more interested than I was many moons ago in my chemistry lessons, but I understood enough to get the gist (I think!)

We also learn how frightened poisoning left the population at this time with stories in the press gleefully pouring out the details of the trials to their readers. In response to the public clamouring for action, the Pharmaceutical Society wrote a report to ensure that the sale of poisons became more regulated:

“In their united eagerness, their report may well have over-egged the poisoned pudding, making arsenic murder appear far more common than it actually was.”

Although this took a shockingly long time to make it into law finally

“On 17 February 1851, it was announced that parliament would introduce a measure to restrict the sale of arsenic.”

The author doesn’t ‘over-egg’ her own pudding though, pointing out that;

“After the passing of the 1851 Arsenic Act, no further legislation for the control of poisons was considered for some time. While available statistics show an increase in the number of poison murders bought to trial in the 1840s and 1850s, poison as a method of murder still remained rare compared to the various forms of physical violence.”

This book covers poisoners predominantly in the United Kingdom and France, although some Americans make an appearance towards the end of the book. Some of the crimes detailed were familiar, such as that of Glaswegian, Madeline Smith who I met in the Victorian Murderesses book by Mary S. Hartman who was accused of murdering her secret lover Pierre Emile L’Angeier who died from arsenic poisoning in 1857, of particular interest to me as the victim originally hailed from Jersey.

I don’t think there is a more comprehensive look at this particular type of crime and this book is quite dense, I certainly don’t recommend it as light reading, nor is it for those who easily feel queasy, believe me I’ve only lightly touched upon some of the unpleasant descriptions in-between these pages! The danger of course with the sheer volume of research packed into the book is that the crimes described can begin to merge into one, and as a result I did feel that it wasn’t always clear how this related to the laws being passed to prevent it, nor the increased chance of discovery due to the clever scientists. Despite that mild criticism which is easily overcome by not trying to pack this into a beginning to end reading experience, it was a simply fascinating read, particularly as the author rounds of her book with brief descriptions of some modern poisoners!

I’d like to say a big thank you to the publishers Yale University Press, London for allowing me to read a copy of this book, this review is my thank you to them. If you want to know anything at all about nineteenth century poisoners then The Secret Poisoner was published on 22 March 2016 so you can fill your boots with Linda Stratmann’s meticulous research.

Posted in Weekly Posts

This Week in Books (March 23)

This Week In Books

Hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I am reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words

I am currently reading The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood a quirky tale with an interesting voice

The One in a Million Boy

Blurb

Miss Ona Vitkus has – aside from three months in the summer of 1914 – lived unobtrusively, her secrets fiercely protected.
The boy, with his passion for world records, changes all that. He is eleven. She is one hundred and four years, one hundred and thirty three days old (they are counting). And he makes her feel like she might be really special after all. Better late than never…
Only it’s been two weeks now since he last visited, and she’s starting to think he’s not so different from all the rest.
Then the boy’s father comes, for some reason determined to finish his son’s good deed. And Ona must show this new stranger that not only are there odd jobs to be done, but a life’s ambition to complete . . Amazon

My latest read is The Secret Poisoner by Linda Stratmann which is dense but a really interesting look at poisoners and those who tried to detect the poison for court cases.

The Secret Poisoner

Blurb

Murder by poison alarmed, enthralled, and in many ways encapsulated the Victorian age. Linda Stratmann’s dark and splendid social history reveals the nineteenth century as a gruesome battleground where poisoners went head-to-head with authorities who strove to detect poisons, control their availability, and bring the guilty to justice. She corrects many misconceptions about particular poisons and documents how the evolution of issues such as marital rights and the legal protection of children impacted poisonings. Combining archival research with a novelist’s eye, Stratmann charts the era’s inexorable rise of poison cases both shocking and sad.

Next I plan on reading The Swimming Pool by Louise Candlish which is due to be published on 5 May 2016

The Swimming Pool

For the synopsis and excerpts please see yesterday’s post

So all I need now is some time to read these beauties – What are you reading this week? Please do share!

Posted in Weekly Posts

Stacking the Shelves (March 19)

Stacking the shelves

Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you’re adding to your shelves, be it buying or borrowing. From ‘real’ books you’ve purchased, a book you’ve borrowed, a book you’ve been given or an e-book they can all be shared.

Oh dear, oh dear… since I last did one of these posts I have quite a selection to share with you all this week, but I think you’ll agree they are all worthy additions to the stack!

First up the NetGalley offerings, in no particular order:

A timely addition given my fascination with Victorian poisoners illustrated in my reviews of Last Woman Hanged and Mrs Maybrick I now have a whole century of them in The Secret Poisoner by Linda Stratmann which will be published on 22 March 2016.

The Secret Poisoner

Blurb

Murder by poison alarmed, enthralled, and in many ways encapsulated the Victorian age. Linda Stratmann’s dark and splendid social history reveals the nineteenth century as a gruesome battleground where poisoners went head-to-head with authorities who strove to detect poisons, control their availability, and bring the guilty to justice. She corrects many misconceptions about particular poisons and documents how the evolution of issues such as marital rights and the legal protection of children impacted poisonings. Combining archival research with a novelist’s eye, Stratmann charts the era’s inexorable rise of poison cases both shocking and sad. NetGalley

I have a psychological thriller in the shape of The Missing by C.L. Taylor, an author who has proved herself to me with The Accident and The Lie so my hopes are high for this addition out on 7 April 2016.

The Missing cl

Blurb

You love your family. They make you feel safe. You trust them.
But should you…?
When fifteen-year-old Billy Wilkinson goes missing in the middle of the night, his mother, Claire, blames herself. She’s not the only one. There isn’t a single member of Billy’s family that doesn’t feel guilty. But the Wilkinson’s are so used to keeping secrets from one another that it isn’t until six months later, after an appeal for information goes horribly wrong, that the truth begins to surface.
Claire is sure of two things – that Billy is still alive and that her friends and family had nothing to do with his disappearance.
A mother’s instinct is never wrong. Or is it?
Sometimes those closest to us are the ones with the most to hide… NetGalley

I have also been lucky enough to get a copy of Kindred by Steve Robinson, the author who created Jefferson Tayte, a genealogist who uncovers historical mysteries whilst often facing some level of danger in the present, this is his fifth outing. Kindred will be published on 12 April 2016

Kindred

Blurb

Jefferson Tayte is good at finding people who don’t want to be found. For years he has followed faint genealogical trails to reunite families—and uncover long-hidden secrets. But Tayte is a loner, a man with no ties of his own; his true identity is the most elusive case of his career.
But that could all be about to change. Now Tayte has in his possession the beginnings of a new trail—clues his late mentor had started to gather—that might at last lead to his own family. With Professor Jean Summer, his partner in genealogical sleuthing, he travels to Munich to pick up the scent. But the hunt takes them deep into dangerous territory: the sinister secrets of World War II Germany, and those who must keep them buried at any cost.
When their investigations threaten to undermine a fascist organisation, Tayte and Summer know time is running out. Can they find their way to the dark heart of a deadly history before they become its latest victims? NetGalley

Next up is an author whose first two books really impressed me; Mary Kubica’s third novel Don’t You Cry will be published on 12 May 2016.

Blurb

In downtown Chicago, a young woman named Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her friend and roommate Quinn Collins to wonder where Esther is and whether or not she’s the person Quinn thought she knew.
Meanwhile, in a small Michigan harbour town an hour outside Chicago, a mysterious woman appears in the quiet coffee shop where 18 year old Alex Gallo works as a dishwasher. He is immediately drawn to her charm and beauty, but what starts as an innocent crush quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister.
As Quinn searches for answers about Esther, and Alex is drawn further under the stranger’s spell, Mary Kubica takes readers on a taut and twisted rollercoaster ride that builds to a stunning conclusion. NetGalley

Lastly from NetGalley a book that I already have on pre-order, The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale, which I’m so excited about.

The Wicked Boy

Blurb

Early in the morning of Monday 8 July 1895, thirteen-year-old Robert Coombes and his twelve-year-old brother Nattie set out from their small, yellow-brick terraced house in East London to watch a cricket match at Lord’s. Their father had gone to sea the previous Friday, the boys told their neighbours, and their mother was visiting her family in Liverpool. Over the next ten days Robert and Nattie spent extravagantly, pawning their parents’ valuables to fund trips to the theatre and the seaside. But as the sun beat down on the Coombes house, a strange smell began to emanate from the building.
When the police were finally called to investigate, the discovery they made sent the press into a frenzy of horror and alarm, and Robert and Nattie were swept up in a criminal trial that echoed the outrageous plots of the ‘penny dreadful’ novels that Robert loved to read.
In The Wicked Boy, Kate Summerscale has uncovered a fascinating true story of murder and morality – it is not just a meticulous examination of a shocking Victorian case, but also a compelling account of its aftermath, and of man’s capacity to overcome the past. Amazon

Through the post from Penguin UK I got a copy of My Husband’s Wife by Jane Corry which is to be published as an eBook on 26 May 2016 with the paperback following in August.

My Husband's Wife

Blurb

It’s the perfect love story.
Lily meets Ed at a party, and on their second date, he proposes. She’s a lawyer, he’s an up-and-coming artist. They own a small but beautiful flat in London and mix with all the right people.
But Lily has a secret. Something from her past, that is soon to collide with her present. And she thinks her new husband is hiding something too…
The vows they made will soon be tested to the very limits.
‘Till death us do part…’
Perfect for readers of Liane Moriarty and Clare Mackintosh, lose yourself in the twist-filled story that everyone’s talking about. Goodreads

From Lovereading UK I was lucky enough to get another book by a favourite author who I discovered last year with The Sudden Departure of the Frasers; The Swimming Pool by Louise Candlish will be published on 5 May 2016.

The Swimming Pool

Blurb

In the heady swelter of a London summer, the Elm Hill lido opens.
For teacher Natalie Steele, the school holiday typically means weeks of carefully planned activities with her husband Ed and their daughter Molly. But not this year.
Despite Molly’s extreme phobia of the water, Natalie is drawn to the lido and its dazzling social scene, led by the glamorous Lara Channing. Soon Natalie is spending long, intoxicating days with Lara at the pool – and intimate evenings at her home. Natalie’s real life begins to feel very far away.
But is the new friendship everything it seems? Why is Natalie haunted by memories from another summer years ago? And, without realising, has she been swept dangerously out of her depth? Amazon

And if all of that wasn’t enough I bought a copy of Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge, a book that had been on wishlist for quite some time but this wonderful review by Heavenali (if you haven’t already checked out her wonderful blog, you’re missing out!) meant that I could no longer resist the pull.

Harriet Said

Blurb

A girl returns from boarding school to her sleepy Merseyside hometown and waits to be reunited with her childhood friend, Harriet, chief architect of all their past mischief. She roams listlessly along the shoreline and the woods still pitted with wartime trenches, and encounters ‘the Tsar’ – almost old, unhappily married, both dangerously fascinating and repulsive.
Pretty, malevolent Harriet finally arrives – and over the course of the long holidays draws her friend into a scheme to beguile then humiliate the Tsar, with disastrous, shocking consequences. A gripping portrayal of adolescent transgression, Beryl Bainbridge’s classic first novel remains as subversive today as when it was written. Amazon

I’m so excited about all of these finds that I’m not at all sorry about what has happened to the poor old TBR – more books, more pleasure is the motto for this week!

 

 

PicMonkey Collage TBR

TBR WATCH
Since my last count I have read 6 books, and gained, 8, and DNF 1, so the total has increased overall by 1 giving a total of 172 books!
87 physical books
69 e-books
16 books on NetGalley

 

What have you found to read this week?