cover image A Taste for Poison: Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them

A Taste for Poison: Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them

Neil Bradbury. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-27075-7

Physiology and biophysics professor Bradbury debuts with an accessible and fascinating study of poisons, using real murder cases to explain how the chemicals affect the human body. In the past, poisoning murders were relatively easy to get away with, but today Bradbury considers the prospect of a poisoner getting away with their crime as “almost nonexistent.” In chapters with titles reminiscent of mystery fiction (“Aconite and Mrs. Singh’s Curry,” “Arsenic and Monsieur L’Angelier’s Cocoa”), Bradbury examines well-known cases—such as the 1978 ricin poisoning of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov by means of a jab from a specially treated umbrella tip—as well as more obscure ones, such as John Hendrickson’s 1853 murder of his wife with aconite. He also details exactly how his 11 potentially fatal molecules work; for example, arsenic, in its gaseous state, disintegrates red blood cells, thus causing asphyxiation by reducing the oxygen carried through the body. Bradbury offers the occasional light touch, as in an appendix with a caveat that the “following information is purely for educational purposes only, and is not intended to give the advantages or disadvantages for the use of any particular poison in the commission of murder.” Readers of A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie will be entertained. Agent: Jessica Papin, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Feb.)