Friday, August 30, 2013

Book Review Friday: The Poisoner's Handbook


    The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum is a fascinating walk through New York City during the years of Prohibition and Tammany Hall.
    In the early 1900s corrupt politicians had a strangle hold on city government.  Payoffs and cronyism were the names of the game.  The city coroner wasn't even a doctor.  In a town where death certificates were for sale poison was a sure fire way to commit murder and get away with it. Then the New York State Legislature stepped in to require a qualified person take control of the coroner's office.  In 1918, over the objections of NYC Mayor John F. "Red Mike" Hylan, Dr. Charles Norris was appointed Chief Medical Examiner.  Together with toxicologist Alexander Getttler, Norris created a disciplined, efficient, and scrupulously honest forensics team that handled every suspicious death in NYC.  With painstaking determination they researched the effects of poisons on the body in order to convict poisoners in the courts.
    This is a thoroughly researched and thoroughly entertaining look back in time.  Each chapter tells the story of another crime, another poison, and the reader is drawn into the mystery as Norris and Gettler race against time, ignorance, and government bureaucracies to save lives and bring criminals to justice.

Want to read more about Forensic Medicine?  Try these:

Beating the Devil's Game: A History of Forensic Science and Criminal Investigation
by Katherine M. Ramsland

Forensic Science: An Encyclopedia of History, Methods, and Techniques by William J. Tilstone

The Science of Sherlock Holmes: From Baskerville Hall to the Valley of Fear, the Real Forensics Behind the Great Detective's Greatest Cases by E. J. Wagner

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