Poison As Murder: 8 Crime Fiction Books That Employ Poison

Look, poison is the most interesting murder weapon because it adds a component of mystery—we’re not only looking at who and why, but it merits extra investigation into how. There’s an extra layer of medical thriller involved every time.

My fascination with that cause of death is probably why my first book is about a prolific poisoner. She was a nurse during the Gilded Age who poisoned a lot of her patients… but she didn’t always use the same poison, or the same quantity of the same poisons. She varied her methods, actually, because she liked to play with death, overdosing someone to the brink of death on morphine, and then bringing them back from the cusp with atropine.

Naturally, sometimes she didn’t rescue them, so they died. And sometimes she killed them outright with strychnine, which was sold over the counter to treat upset stomach, at the time.

It’s amazing how, in the right quantities, medicine can treat an illness. Take two of these and call me in the morning. But if you take enough Advil, it’ll be your last headache.

That nurse’s name was Jane Toppan, by the way. You might have heard of her as “Jolly Jane.” And while this post is not an advertisement for my book, if you want to check it out, you can do that. It’s called America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster.

All that to say, poison is fascinating for many reasons: first, poison isn’t always poison. Those substances aren’t always weapons. In a way, they’re weapons of opportunity, like a double-boiler or a kitchen knife. Second, poison manifests in so many ways, from medicine to the pipes you drink from to even the air you breathe. So if it’s as interesting to you as it is to me, here are eight mysteries and thrillers that will give you that fix of books with poison.


Mary Kay McBrayer is the author of America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster. You can find her short works at Oxford American, Narratively, Mental Floss, and FANGORIA, among other publications. She co-hosts Everything Trying to Kill You, the comedy podcast that analyzes your favorite horror movies from the perspectives of women of color. Follow Mary Kay McBrayer on Instagram and Twitter, or check out her author site here.