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

A Taste for Poison: Eleven deadly molecules and the killers who used themA Taste for Poison: Eleven deadly molecules and the killers who used them
by Neil Bradbury
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250270757
Publication Date: February 1, 2022
Pages: 291
Genre: History, Science
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

A brilliant blend of science and crime, A TASTE FOR POISON reveals how eleven notorious poisons affect the body--through the murders in which they were used.

As any reader of murder mysteries can tell you, poison is one of the most enduring—and popular—weapons of choice for a scheming murderer. It can be slipped into a drink, smeared onto the tip of an arrow or the handle of a door, even filtered through the air we breathe. But how exactly do these poisons work to break our bodies down, and what can we learn from the damage they inflict?

In a fascinating blend of popular science, medical history, and true crime, Dr. Neil Bradbury explores this most morbidly captivating method of murder from a cellular level. Alongside real-life accounts of murderers and their crimes—some notorious, some forgotten, some still unsolved—are the equally compelling stories of the poisons involved: eleven molecules of death that work their way through the human body and, paradoxically, illuminate the way in which our bodies function.

Drawn from historical records and current news headlines, A Taste for Poison weaves together the tales of spurned lovers, shady scientists, medical professionals and political assassins to show how the precise systems of the body can be impaired to lethal effect through the use of poison. From the deadly origins of the gin & tonic cocktail to the arsenic-laced wallpaper in Napoleon’s bedroom, A Taste for Poison leads readers on a riveting tour of the intricate, complex systems that keep us alive—or don’t.

Previous readers (who listened to audio versions, if that makes any difference) warned me that the format was a bit monotonous, so I went in with expectations firmly in place.  Perhaps because I was reading a hard copy, I didn’t find the format to be too same/same.  I whizzed through the book though, in a way I seldom do for non-fiction, so it’s a fast, easy read.  While I liked the case studies he provided overall, I really appreciated the more contemporary accounts; I feared a bit that he’d recycle the same old case studies so often used in books of similar subjects.  Plus, you don’t hear about people trying to poison people much anymore, unless they’re an enemy of a state that speaks … oh, say, Russian.

I did find the writing to be a little bit unsophisticated – not so much that it hindered the reading experience, but it’s probably why it was a fast read.  I heavily skimmed the epilogue, for example, because it read entirely too much like the summaries we used to have to write in high school as part of our 500 word essays.  What I did take away from the epilogue though, was that I missed more than just the ‘castle where Hogwart’s was filmed’ when I ran out of time for Alnwick that day many years ago – I missed the poison garden!  Damn!

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2022, for the Arsenic and Old Lace square.  This completes my squares and I have now reached a Bingo Card Blackout.  No Bingos, yet, but they’re all there, just waiting for the calls.

The Bat

The BatThe Bat
by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Rating: ★★★
isbn: Dell #0465
Publication Date: August 23, 1969
Pages: 224
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Dell

For months, the city has lived in fear of the Bat. A master criminal hindered by neither scruple nor fear, he has stolen over one million dollars and left at least six men dead. The police are helpless, the newspapers know nothing—even the key figures of the city's underworld have no clue as to the identity of the Bat. He is a living embodiment of death itself, and he is coming to the countryside. There, he will encounter the only person who can stop him: adventurous sixty-five-year-old spinster Cornelia Van Gorder. Last in a long line of New York society royalty, Cornelia has found old age to be a bore, and is hungry for a bit of adventure. She's going to find it—in a lonely old country house where every shadow could be the Bat.

Way back when I read The Circular Staircase, people told me about The Bat; that it was a re-novelisation of a play based on The Circular Staircase and widely considered to be an improvement on the original.  So, I bought a copy of The Bat when I found one.

Alas, this was not, in my opinion, an improvement on the original.  It was definitely funny – it seemed to go for the outright humor, playing to the audience for laughs.  The blatant switch of targets for the racism was incredibly disappointing, although the dichotomy of respect and thoughtless remarks remains the same as the original.  There was an added bonus of outright misogyny here too that irritated me to no end; and I really wanted to drown Dale for being so weak and vapid.

I don’t know if it’s because I read TCS, or because The Bat was simplified for stage production, but the plot failed to please me as much as the original – it’s a bare bones version of the one that gave me such welcome surprises in TCS.

All in all in was a fun read but not at all as good as the original in my opinion.

I read this for the Gothic square on my Halloween Bingo 2022 card and as a buddy read with Moonlight Reader, Peregrinations, and BrokenTune.

The Kennel Murder Case

The Kennel Murder CaseThe Kennel Murder Case
by S. S. Van Dine
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: December 1, 1946
Pages: 243
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Bantam Press

Archer Coe, a collector of Chinese ceramics, is found dead in his bedroom, the only door to which is securely bolted on the inside. District Attorney John F.-X. Markham and Sergeant Heath of the Homicide Bureau--and even the Medical Examiner--regard Coe's death as suicide. But Philo Vance soon proves that it is a sinister and subtly concocted murder. The circumstances surrounding it are so mysterious and contradictory that, for a while, no solution seems possible. But in the end Philo Vance, through his knowledge of Chinese ceramics and Scottish terriers, brings the case to a conclusion as satisfactory as it is startling.

The story moves swiftly, one mystery crowding another. For sheer action and suspense, and for interesting
characterization, it is one of the very best of Van Dine's incomparable Philo Vance novels.

A well-written, fast paced locked room mystery that tried entirely too hard to be too clever.  Van Dine seemed determined to write a mystery that the reader couldn’t solve, and in the process went entirely over the top.

Originally written in 1933, the writing suffers from the casual racism of the age (specifically against Chinese), with the sergeant assigned to the case coming across as the most ignorant – even interrogating all the suspects like he was in a bad noir detective novel.  Vance was entirely too suave and expert at positively everything; the author’s attempt to have him appear at times humble and stumped a complete failure, as he refuses to speculate wit the detectives or share the ‘clues’ he’s ferreted out.

Still and all, it was entertaining to read and it didn’t drag.  I could have done without the animal cruelty and death, but both instances happened so fast and were over, but still, had I known about them, I’d have likely skipped reading this altogether, even if the rest of it entertained.

I read this for the Vintage Mystery square in Halloween Bingo 2022.

The Honjin Murders

The Honjin MurdersThe Honjin Murders
by Louise Heal Kawai (Translator), Seishi Yokimizo
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781782277316
Publication Date: November 12, 2020
Pages: 189
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Pushkin Press

In the winter of 1937, the village of Okamura is abuzz with excitement over the forthcoming wedding of a son of the grand Ichiyanagi family. But amid the gossip over the approaching festivities, there is also a worrying rumour – it seems a sinister masked man has been asking questions about the Ichiyanagis around the village.

Then, on the night of the wedding, the Ichiyanagi family are woken by a terrible scream, followed by the sound of eerie music – death has come to Okamura, leaving no trace but a bloody samurai sword, thrust into the pristine snow outside the house. The murder seems impossible, but amateur detective Kosuke Kindaichi is determined to get to the bottom of it.

I wavered between 3.5 and 4 stars; ultimately, I’m going with 4.  This is a really well-written, cleverly plotted ode to the Golden Age of mystery, specifically, the golden age of locked room mysteries (I loved all the name dropping!).  Even though it’s written much later, everything about it harkens back to those magic days when mystery writing was new and full of unexplored nooks and crannies.  The device that the plot turned on was fiendish, but part of me wants to quibble about the mechanics – specifically the speed which everything happened, but that’s just pickiness – the buildings could have been further apart, the people slower, or the water faster than I’m imagining them.

None of that matters anyway, it didn’t detract a bit from my enjoyment of the book.  The only thing that ticked me off is the same thing that’s been ticking me off about historic literature since Bronte and Austen:  the affectation of using O– instead of just putting the damn village/town/city name in.  Just seeing “the –shire” makes me itch in irritation, and the liberal use of it in this book had the same effect.  I don’t care why they did it, it’s irritating.

I borrowed this from the library, and I have to say, I enjoyed it enough that I’ll be looking for my own copy to add to my personal collection.  I’m sort of curious, too, to read the next one, which my library happens to have as well.

I needed a Locked Room Mystery for my Halloween Bingo 2022 card and this is the perfect fit.  It also works for Death in TranslationHome is Where the Hurt is, and Country House Mystery.

The Fleur de Sel Murders (Brittany Mystery, #3)

The Fleur de Sel MurdersThe Fleur de Sel Murders
by Jean-Luc Bannalec
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781250308375
Series: Brittany Mystery #3
Publication Date: March 26, 2019
Pages: 321
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books

The old salt farmers have always said that the violet scent of the Fleur de Sel at harvest time on the salt marshes of the Guérande Peninsula has been known to cause hallucinations. Commissaire Dupin also starts to believe this when he’s attacked out of the blue in the salt works.

He had actually been looking forward to escaping his endless paperwork and taking a trip to the “white country” between the raging Atlantic Ocean and idyllic rivers. But when he starts snooping around mysterious barrels on behalf of Lilou Breval, a journalist friend, he finds himself unexpectedly under attack. The offender remains a mystery, and a short time later, Breval disappears without a trace. It is thanks to his secretary Nolwenn and the ambition of the prefect that Dupin is assigned to the case. But he won’t be working alone because Sylvaine Rose is the investigator responsible for the department—and she lives up to her name….

What’s going on in the salt works? Dupin and Rose search feverishly for clues and stumble upon false alibis, massive conflicts of interest, personal feuds—and ancient Breton legends.

If Bannalec hadn’t been able to hack it as a mystery author, he’d have had a great career in tourism; he sells me on Brittany every time I read one of his books.  Brittany springs to life off the page.

This can also be a hinderance; too much of it bogs the story down and there are spots of too much in this book.  The start, where he’s setting the scene in the salt gardens, almost killed the story’s momentum before it could ever get started.  I mean, yeah, it was beautiful and descriptive, but it dragged.  I deducted 1/2 star for the moments like this that happened throughout the book.

Once the story got going though, and the bodies started dropping, the pace picked up dramatically, so that by the end it was as edge-of-your-seat as traditional mysteries get.  I like Dupin, too, although he comes across a bit off-foot in this one, as I think he’s meant to, as he has to work with a female detective that’s as take charge as he is.

There are at least 5 more books in this series to look forward to, and it’s a series I think I’d eventually like to own.  They’re not the binging kind, but quite enjoyable once or twice a year – especially if you’re in the mood for a mental holiday-on-the-page.

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2022’s Death in Translation square.  Originally written in German and translated into English.  It could also work for Terror in a Small Town, and, of course, Genre: Mystery.

In the Middle of Hickory Lane

In the Middle of Hickory LaneIn the Middle of Hickory Lane
by Heather Webber
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781250774651
Publication Date: July 26, 2022
Pages: 308
Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism
Publisher: Forge

Emme Wynn has wanted nothing more her whole life than to feel like part of a family. Having grown up on the run with her con artist mother, she’s been shuffled from town to town, drawn into bad situations, and has learned some unsavory habits that she’s tried hard to overcome. When her estranged grandmother tracks her down out of the blue and extends a job offer—helping to run her booth at an open-air marketplace in small-town Sweetgrass, Alabama—Emme is hopeful that she’ll finally be able to plant the roots she’s always dreamed of. But some habits are hard to break, and she risks her newfound happiness by keeping one big truth to herself.

Cora Bee Hazelton has her hands full with volunteering, gardening, her job as a color consultant and designer, and just about anything she can do to keep her mind off her painful past, a past that has resulted in her holding most everyone at arm’s length. The last thing she wants is to form close relationships only to have her heart broken yet again. But when she’s injured, she has no choice other than to let people into her life and soon realizes it’s going to be impossible to keep her heart safe—or her secrets hidden.

In the magical neighborhood garden in the middle of Hickory Lane, Emme and Cora Bee learn some hard truths about the past and themselves, the value of friends, family, and community, and most importantly, that true growth starts from within.

This one was not my favourite Heather Webber magical realism story, but that’s purely a matter of subjective taste for the theme.  I’m not interested in reading about con men (women), even unwilling ones seeking redemption.  But it had a garden with a dead body in it, and magical realism, so I was willing.

Putting aside the bits about living the life of a con, and keeping secrets, etc. there was a lot to like in this story.  Once I wrapped my head around just how huge the cul-de-sac had to have been to accommodate the garden described, it sounded magical, and all the characters, as usual with Webber’s writing, come to life on the page.  There is, as usual, the theme of ‘love conquers most everything’ but until the end it wasn’t dominant.

The dead body is discovered on page 1, but then just sort of lurks there in the background, while the police work at identifying the remains (they’re old).  But things come together at the end and I have to say I wasn’t really expecting them to come together in quite that shape.  I love when an author is able to surprise and blindside me.  It bumped the story up .5 a star.

I didn’t read this for Halloween Bingo, but looking at my card, I have Country House Mystery unread, and curiously, no desire to read anything for it, and my Lottery wild card still un-used, so I think I’ll use it and swap out Country House Mystery for the Home is Where the Hurt Is square, since this story definitely involves crimes that occur in nice, normal families.


Round Up the Usual Peacocks (Meg Langslow, #31)

Round Up the Usual PeacocksRound Up the Usual Peacocks
by Donna Andrews
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250760203
Series: Meg Langslow #31
Publication Date: August 2, 2022
Pages: 300
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books

Kevin, Meg's cyber-savvy nephew who lives in the basement, comes to her with a problem. He's become involved as the techie for a true-crime podcast, one that focuses on Virginia cold cases and unsolved crimes. And he thinks their podcast has hit a nerve with someone . . . one of the podcast team has had a brush with death that Kevin thinks was an attempted murder, not an accident.

Kevin rather sheepishly asks for Meg's help in checking out the people involved in a couple of the cases. "Given your ability to find out stuff online, why do you need MY help?" she asks. "Um . . . because I've already done everything I can online. This'll take going around and TALKING to people," he exclaims, with visible horror. "In person!" Not his thing. And no, it can't wait until after the wedding, because he's afraid whoever's after them might take advantage of the chaos of the wedding at Trinity or the reception at Meg and Michael's house to strike again.

So on top of everything she's doing to round up vendors and supplies and take care of demanding out-of-town guests, Meg must hunt down the surviving suspects from three relatively local cold cases so she can figure out if they have it in for the podcasters. Could there be a connection to a musician on the brink of stardom who disappeared two decades ago and hasn't been seen since?

I’m giving this one the benefit of doubt at 4 stars because I went into it with reservations.  As the title implies, this mystery is sort of an homage to the first in the series, Murder with Peacocks, which I loved – and I rarely enjoy attempts at revisiting the well.

Fortunately the homage is more like just a light breeze of familiarity that wafts through the story, as Meg helps her nephew Kevin with his true crime podcast, reviewing several old cold cases in an attempt to figure out who has it in for Kevin and his co-host.  This structure works well, as it keeps Meg busy and the reader from getting bored.  In the background is the preparation for the wedding to end all weddings, with the running gag that everyone is trying to avoid Meg’s mom so they aren’t put to work.

Of course Meg solves the cold cases, and here’s the one area that stretches believability because she solves all of them.  I sort of feel like the story would have worked better had one of the cases been left unanswered; as it stands, everything is wrapped up too neatly at the end, even for a cozy.  Although it was somehow satisfying to see everything tied up neatly, even if it felt over the top.

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2022 for the Cozy Mystery square.  When Carlito was a young teen kitten, I caught a picture of him I can’t resist including here, because it’s his version of the Cozy Mystery Square cover:


The Baker Street Letters (Baker Street Mystery, #1)

The Baker Street LettersThe Baker Street Letters
by Michael Robertson
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780312538125
Series: Baker Street Mystery #1
Publication Date: January 1, 2009
Pages: 288
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

First in a spectacular new series about two brother lawyers who lease offices on London's Baker Street--and begin receiving mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes

In Los Angeles, a geological surveyor maps out a proposed subway route—and then goes missing. His eight-year-old daughter in her desperation turns to the one person she thinks might help—she writes a letter to Sherlock Holmes.

That letter creates an uproar at 221b Baker Street, which now houses the law offices of attorney and man about town Reggie Heath and his hapless brother Nigel. Instead of filing the letter like he's supposed to, Nigel decides to investigate. Soon he's flying off to L.A., inconsiderately leaving a very dead body on the floor in his office. Big brother Reggie follows Nigel to California, as does Reggie's sometime lover, Laura – a quick-witted stage actress who's captured the hearts of both brothers.

When Nigel is arrested, Reggie must use all his wits to solve a case that Sherlock Holmes would have savored, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fans will adore.

An impulse grab at my library, I had no idea what to suspect from this book – I was unfamiliar with the author and series, but the premise sounded like potential fun: legal chambers at 221B Baker street are obliged, by the terms of their lease, to open, read and answer letters written to Sherlock Holmes.

The book turned out to be well-written and fast-paced, though it lagged a bit in the middle for me.  The plot was interesting and well-constructed, although grand in a way that, at the risk of generalising, seems to be SOP for male authors.  It was good, and I enjoyed it, but this is not the kind of mystery where the reader really gets to participate; this is a traditional mystery with pretensions of thriller-ism.

In the Real World, I tend to find men more relatable then women, so I suppose in the karmic balance of things, it’s natural that I’m the exact opposite in the Book World.  In Book World, I prefer my authors to be female, as – again, at the risk of generalisation – they have voices that I find most relatable, as well as an ability to write characters and their relationships in a way that hooks me.  There are exceptions on both sides, of course, but this isn’t one of them: while it’s a good story with a great setup and a lively style, the characters failed to click with me.  I liked them, but they didn’t feel natural, and I’m completely dismissing the “romantic” element.  Laura is great, but her connections to the main character and his brother feels wooden, at best.  Luckily, that chemistry, or the lack of it, is irrelevant to the story and easy to ignore.

There are at least 4-5 more books in this series, and I have the 3rd one checked out – my library didn’t have the second one.  I may read it before the due date, but I’m going to put it aside for now; this feels like a series I could enjoy periodically but never binge on.

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2022, for the Amateur Sleuth square.  It takes place mostly in Los Angeles, so it would also work for the Golden State Nightmares square.

A Stitch in Time

A Stitch in TimeA Stitch in Time
by Kelley Armstrong
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781989046210
Publication Date: March 1, 2021
Pages: 322
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Self-published

Thorne Manor has always been haunted…and it has always haunted Bronwyn Dale. As a young girl, Bronwyn could pass through a time slip in her great-aunt’s house, where she visited William Thorne, a boy her own age, born two centuries earlier. After a family tragedy, the house was shuttered and Bronwyn was convinced that William existed only in her imagination.

Now, twenty years later Bronwyn inherits Thorne Manor. And when she returns, William is waiting.

William Thorne is no longer the boy she remembers. He’s a difficult and tempestuous man, his own life marred by tragedy and a scandal that had him retreating to self-imposed exile in his beloved moors. He’s also none too pleased with Bronwyn for abandoning him all those years ago.

As their friendship rekindles and sparks into something more, Bronwyn must also deal with ghosts in the present version of the house. Soon she realizes they are linked to William and the secret scandal that drove him back to Thorne Manor. To build a future, Bronwyn must confront the past.

Tannat recently read this, and it has ghosts – and most importantly, cats, that feature prominently enough in the story line to make the story qualify for the Black Cat square in Bingo, so I snagged an ebook copy from my library.

It’s an easy read, well written, and totally not my jam.  Ghosts or no ghosts (and there are ghosts) this is a straight up romance, with really nothing else to interfere with that romance – even the Victorian age murders didn’t detract from, or distract me from, all the love and devotion.  The cats, ember and Pandora, were the stars of the show though.  That they were calicos just made it even better.

While I found the story to be ‘meh’ – that’s a personal taste; to my friends that enjoy the romance genre, this is a story that might be worth checking out.

As I mentioned at the start, I needed a book for my Black Cat square for Halloween Bingo 2022, and this fits the bill perfectly, so thanks go to Tannat for saving me a lot of angst and a wild card.  🙂

A Deadly Education (Scholomance, #1)

A Deadly EducationA Deadly Education
by Naomi Novik
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781529100877
Series: Scholomance #1
Publication Date: March 4, 2021
Pages: 320
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Random House

Enter a school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered.

There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal. Once you're inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.

El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the school's many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions - never mind easily destroy the countless monsters that prowl the school.

Except, she might accidentally kill all the other students, too. So El is trying her hardest not to use it . . . that is, unless she has no other choice.

Let me get this out of the way right up front: the amount of introspective, meandering, narrative in this book is crippling.  There is a 12 page scene devoted to El just walking the length of the book stacks in the school library.  Granted, it’s a magical library, and part of the point in this scene is the schools way of stretching space when it wants to, so this scene is effective at making the reader feel the interminable-ness of El’s trip to the end of the row to see what’s attacking the other kids, but while she had the benefit of adrenaline, I was just bored after 6 pages of it.  And there are several further instances of the narrative just wandering away from the main subject or banging on way too long about one thing or another.

And El is … well, someone needs to tell El to pull her head out of her own ass.  She’s rude – unspeakably rude – to people who don’t deserve it, and then bemoans in all her endless inner dialogs about how much she just wants friends, to be liked.  The prophecy, in my opinion, isn’t convincing enough a reason for her to act like such a bitch.

Saying all that, it’s a heck of a good story.  If I was irritated while reading it, it was because the Scholomance construct, how the school works, and the other characters were so fascinating, and I felt like the eternal inner-narrative and El’s occasionally appalling rudeness got in the way of the greater story.  When I wasn’t drowning in El’s attitude, I was having a rollicking good time with everything else.

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2022 and while it’s a perfect fit for Dark Academia, I’ve already read for that square, so I’m going to use it instead for Murder & Mayhem by the Book.  Much of the action takes place in the school library, and El finds a spell book that becomes important to her and her friends in the second half of the book.