After loving the non-fiction A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley, which looked into the British obsession with murder mysteries, I was interested to read more from this area. So when I spotted non-fiction The Secret Poisoner: A Century of Murder by Linda Stratmann I thought it could be what I was looking for.
I found The Secret Poisoner a great read to lead on from A Very British Murder , as Linda Stratmann went deeper into the Victorians’ fascination with gruesome murders and the subsequent trials and executions. Highlighting in particular the enthralling fear the public had about murder by poison; which was viewed as a secretive, cold and calculating way to kill. I was really impressed with the wide range of poisoning cases Stratmann evidenced from England, Scotland, across Europe and the USA. As well as looking at the victims and suspected poisoners, Stratmann also discusses in-depth the investigations, evidence, poisons, the scientific developments in detecting poisons and the legislation changes that they affected.
I was particularly interested in the reasons for the poisonings. There certainly were many poisoners who used it in a cold and calculating way to remove unwanted spouses, lovers, children or siblings; or to claim life insurance or inheritance, but it wasn’t always that clear cut. Stratmann also discussed the situations of abuse and poverty that could also lead to desperate acts. Such as the removal of the rights of unmarried mothers to claim maintenance from the absent fathers, which sadly led to an increase in laudanum poisonings of babies. On the other hand the most chilling cases were when it was the person the victim looked to care for them that was actually poisoning them; as in the case of the infamous Dr Palmer.
I took my time over reading The Secret Poisoner, dipping in and out over several months – I even put it down for another book at one point but then I was in just the right mood and just flew through the second half of the book! Overall, Stratmann has delivered a comprehensive, in-depth and detailed history of the famous poison cases and the repercussions of them during the Victorian period. While sometimes the detail of the scientific investigations and the intricacies of the law system went over my head somewhat – I thought Stratmann managed to keep what could have been a dry topic interesting and balanced out the academic detail with the human story of the cases.
I found The Secret Poisoner to be an interesting and comprehensive study of the murders, poisons and poisoners that shook the Victorian world. I would definitely be interested in reading more by Linda Stratmann. Good read.
Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Have you read this? Any recommendations on what I should read next?