The complete title of this book is The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, which is too long and very buzzwordy. The book, however, is a nice collection of murder and accidentally-killed-by-poison cases from New York in the late 19th and early 20th century. The case studies are accompanied by and interweaved with the story of Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler, who fought many battles to have forensic medicine acknowledged as a proper field of study and practice.
The Poisoner’s Handbook has many good little stories that are told compellingly and lively. The chapters and the narrative are divided by chemical elements; while this works well overall, it sometimes felt a bit too tidy. I cannot comment on the science of the book (Blum describes in detail how poisons work and what their chemical reactions are) but I wasn’t bored to death by them, so I can’t complain here.
The title is a bit misleading: the cases told in the book are not all murder cases, there is also an equal amount of accidental deaths through poison. All in all, I really liked how the book managed to bring together history and engaging storytelling – some parts read like the best kind of murder mystery, while others were enlightening and still delightfully entertaining.
Title: The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York Author: Deborah Blum Published: 2010