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The Secret Poisoner: A Century of Murder

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  192 ratings  ·  37 reviews
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 abou ...more
Kindle Edition, 344 pages
Published March 22nd 2016 by Yale University Press
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Apr 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
The science of murder...

Liberally illustrated by true tales of crimes from the Victorian era, the book's real focus is on advances and developments in the science of detection and the prosecution of poisoning cases. In each chapter, Stratmann looks at one aspect of these and gives one or more examples to show their impact in practice.

Stratmann opens with the case of Eliza Fenning, a maidservant hanged for the attempted poisoning of her employers. This case came to be seen as a major miscarriage
This is the case history and forensics outcomes for numerous cases of poisoning during the 1800's.

Most of the cases are European- and involve testing patterns that were just being learned. In most cases, these herald at nearly the birth of forensics for examining organs or recovered residue to prove poisoning had occurred.

It's a difficult read. Case study histories do not connect and the chemical and law bound dictates of place and time are innumerable. For instance, the categories of poisons mo
Cleopatra  Pullen
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 p
Bruce Gargoyle
I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley.

Ten Second Synopsis:
A comprehensive coverage of cases of murder using poison in the Victorian age and the scientific discoveries that advanced the cause of forensic medicine.

This is an ultra-thorough coverage of the use of poison in Victorian age murders (mostly in England and France) and the advances in forensic chemistry that allowed the law to gain convictions for murder by poison based on physical evidence. The format o
Shoshana Hathaway
The Secret Poisoner
By Linda Stratmann

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 a
Margaret McCulloch-Keeble
My book group 'won' a set of this title from The Reading Agency via Reading Groups for Everyone. I think I'm first to finish it, so I'll post a group review later. To begin with I found it fascinating and highly educational. By the end I found it quite repetitive and a wee bit dry. I was grateful for the glossary a couple of times, but felt smug enough not to need it too often! ...more
Krystelle Zuanic
A deep dive into the history of poisons, I found myself reading parts of this book out to my lightly concerned family as it was simply so interesting. There's a lot to be found in here, and it was a fascinating journey, but it did end up dragging on a little eventually when it came to the second half of the book. A little truncation would have gone a long way- however, it still has a lot of value for those who are overly invested in the dark underside of humanity. ...more
May 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nom Nom Nom! I ate this book up! I saw this as an ARC on some website and wanted it but didn't fit their criteria. Luckily, my library ordered it and I borrowed it immediately!

This is a book about the evolution of toxicology forensics and poison laws (mainly in the UK) in the 19th century, peppered liberally with different court cases. The book starts at the turn of the century and each chapter focuses on either a type of poison or a motive, with one or two main court cases to back up the theme
The Wordsworm
I received an ebook ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley and Yale University Press for providing me with this copy.

Linda Stratmann is best known as a Crime Fiction writer, and confesses a fascination with the Victorian era, and Victorian Crime. It feels as though this book is a culmination of the research which goes into her Victorian Crime novels.

The narrative voice maintains a Dickensian vibe in between quotes from newspapers, essays, letters, court re
Jennifer (JC-S)
‘Poison murders are, with few exceptions, usually planned and rarely the result of an altercation or a sudden fit of temper, as is so often the case with crimes of violence.’

Murder by poisoning in the Victorian age was comparatively easy. Poison, in various forms, was both cheap and readily available. In this book, using particular cases, Linda Stratmann writes about the availability of poison, about advances in detecting poison, and about developing controls over the availability and sale of p
Oct 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
This is a very interesting, surprisingly dense book. It's good for reading off and on as the details otherwise run together. Either way, a fascinating look at one deadly aspect of Victorian Life. ...more
Mar 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The Secret Poisoner" was primarily a collection of true crime stories from the 1800s. These cases happened mainly in Great Britain and France, and they all involved poisons. Arsenic was the poison most frequently used in the cases brought to trial, so we learn a lot about it. The author also covered some less frequently used poisons, like laudanum and vegetable poisons. I've read about some of these cases before, but most of them were new to me.

We're also told about developments in scientific t
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: victorian-london
I read this book as part of my immersion in nineteenth century London and New York, and it had exactly what I needed to write an episode on a poisoning mystery. Poisonings were all the fad during the Victorian era since only a few poisons were traceable. It was an easy way knock off a rich relative who wasn't dying fast enough, a complaining wife, a drunken husband, the boss who fired you. It seems that the leading forensic scientists of the day were in a race with the more creative poisoners to ...more
Mystereity Reviews
Jun 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
See this review and more on my blog Mystereity Reviews

What a great book! Very well organized and thoroughly researched, the book neatly lays out the progression of forensic toxicology in the 1800s, encompassing some truly outrageous poisonings in England, France and even in the United States. I don't know what surprised me more, how many people got away with it, or how many people were found guilty of their crimes. Forensic toxicology was in its infancy during the nineteenth century and some of
Nov 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
CN - discusses domestic abuse, sexual violence, murder, cruel and unethical 19th century tests on animals

This book was engaging and interesting, and, at times, despite its morbid topic, I had a hard time putting it down.

It does have a fairly repetitive format - describe the people, then the motives, then the crime, then the investigation or the trial, but I found Stratmann's prose interesting enough that I didn't really mind. I will say, however, that about halfway through I kept vaguely hoping
T.G. Campbell
An excellent reference book. Each chapter is well-written and organised for ease of reading. I'd highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in true crime who isn't a writer or academic, too. Linda relates true cases to support her explanations of how poisoners committed their crimes, how science evolved in its efforts to detect poisons and thereby catch the poisoners, and how the political & legal landscapes evolved with challenges, revelations & outcomes of each case. I particularly ...more
Mar 20, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This well-researched and comprehensive examination of poisonings, poisoners and the development of technologies to deal with them is both entertaining and illuminating. Focussing primarily on the nineteenth century, the author looks at a number (perhaps too many) real-life cases and explores how the law, medicine, the new science of toxicology, plus more humane social attitudes all combined to create new approaches. Personally I felt that the author looked at just too many incidents as they all ...more
Feb 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Though it was a lot of details on poisoning cases and there was a plethora of quotes from cases/legal aspects, it was very well written and interesting. Sometimes it was a bit hard to follow the organization with some stories being interrupted by other similar cases and then coming back to the initial poisoning cases. I appreciated the detail of the symptoms of the poisons and how UK tried to limit purchases to control criminal use. Definitely recommend as a resource for anyone writing murder my ...more
Leyla Johnson
Mar 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What an intriguing book, with real cases dating back and giving the history of poison used and its detection in crime. I was interesting also to read of how many people actually got away with poisoning family members - and yes a lot where women. A very interesting and fascinating book, not one to be read at one sitting, but to dip into from time to time and absorb the history and the atmosphere of the eras.
This book was provided to me in return for an honest and unbiased review
Nov 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It seems fitting that I started this book on Halloween. This was a fascinating look at forensics, poison control, and the legal system in Victorian (mostly) England through quite a few poisoning cases. Seeing the progression of detection of various poisons was really interesting and the very slowly changing laws were frustrating. The ties to social mores and class divisions was also very interesting.
Elizabeth Desole
It is mostly case studies of poisoners who got away with murder. It just wasn't as engaging as I hoped it would be. I also got a bit frustrated with the author's grand pronouncements about the case being one that would change how the justice system would be forever changed by it and then the murderer would get off. It seemed counter to the claim ...more
Matthew Mccrady
An interesting book, although poisoning murders are a little on the boring side, as homicides go. Better to read this book as a history of the development 19th century forensic medicine, rather than a chilling collection of true-crime tales.
May 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dense and fascinating history of the criminal and social trends around various poisons in Victorian society. The information is well-organized and presented in an engaging manner, although the volume of example cases may inspire more casual readers to flip ahead through chunks of the work.
Mar 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received a free copy of this from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

This book is absolutely fascinating. Extremely well researched and written. Well worth a read.
Shane Phillips
May 03, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Lavinia Thompson
May 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime
With a mix of stories, true cases, facts and sometimes startling statistics, Stratmann takes us into the dark world of poison and the murderers who have utilized the various ones over the past decades. She takes the reader all the way back into the nineteenth century to look at the oldest of poisons used for murder: arsenic. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. If I am to nitpick on the minor flaws, some of the sentences were very run-on and it felt like the book ended abruptly, but I didn't feel lik ...more
Dec 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating and well researched book. Stratmann is more interested in the science and development of methods to catch poisoners and the trails that lead to break throughs rather than motivations or simply listing or describing famous poisonings. This is well presented and discusses some very interesting cases.
May 04, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
experiencing an incredible turnaround on the subject of chemistry after this, i like it now and think it’s cool. much to ponder.

as a book it’s kind of gross and disturbing, but also pretty academically elucidating and sometimes really fascinating in a pulpy way. i liked it as entertainment but i think it would be a pretty good research resource too.
Miguel Mendoza
Apr 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
An interesting study of poisoning cases which brought about changes to poison tests and poison distribution laws. I would recommend reading if you don't mind becoming disgusted with the human nature presented within. ...more
Clara Smeaton
Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. It’s a great combination of enthralling descriptions of individual murders, and the science behind detection of different poisons.

I liked the details about trials and criminal proceedings against those that were caught murdering, or trying to murder, with poison.
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Linda Stratmann is a British writer of historical true crime, biography and crime fiction.

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