New Read: The Secret Poisoner

The Secret Poisoner

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?

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9 thoughts on “New Read: The Secret Poisoner

  1. I enjoyed this one too, especially for the background she gave to why some murders were committed – the bit you mention, about mothers losing maintenance, really stuck in my mind. It’s hard for us to imagine how desperate mothers must have felt to kill their own children, but I was also intrigued when she mentioned that the all-male juries of the time were quite lenient in such cases. And yes, I do think we’re all obsessed with murderers over here! 😉

    1. Haha yes FF we are seriously obsessed with murder and as they say to addicts, the first step is admitting it 😀 I also agree it was very interesting that all-male juries of the time were quite lenient in the single mother and baby cases – it is rather touching really that even with the moral prejudices then they clearly sympathised.

  2. How creepy yet absorbing topic for a book! It’s true that British are prone to write more murder mysteries than most, but then they have had world renowned criminals who have sparked the imaginations of authors of the era (case in point, Jack the Ripper).

    1. Carmen, here in Britain we are pretty obsessed with murder mystery books and have many long-running crime TV series too! I do wonder though if we have so many world renowned criminals because of our obsession, as this caused us to write and bang on about them so much that you can’t forget them?!

  3. What a creepy but interesting topic! Did you get the sense that the Victorians were more obsessed with murders than we are today? I just read a Scotland Yard mystery set in the late 1950s by J J Marric, a pen name for John Creasey. It was one of his Gideon Series called Gideon’s Fire and won the Edgar Award in 1962. Lots of murders by many means including arson!

    1. Judy, I can only comment for the UK, but I would say we are still pretty obsessed with murder. You just have to look at all the long running murder mystery and crime TV series and books!

  4. I’ve had that happen with e-reads too; one can languish for months and then suddenly I zoom through what remains. It’s much less liklely for me to observe this with a tree-book than an e-book because I can see it sitting in the stack and pick up the neglected ones after a couple of weeks or so, even if the initial enthusiasm has waned. Glad you enjoyed this one so much after all!

    1. Thank you B.I.P and I couldn’t agree more! The fact you can’t physically see an e-book and that its not taking up any physical space means we are less likely to feel guilty leaving it longer.

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