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.
Newly pregnant Ren Petrovic has an unusual career—she’s a trained assassin, operating under a strict moral code. Ren wasn’t on campus that day, but she knows who was: her husband, Nolan. What she doesn’t know is why Nolan has broken their rules by not telling her about the job in advance. The more Ren looks into the attack, the more she begins to question: Who really hired Nolan? And why did one woman in the crowd respond so differently from all the rest?
Julia and Ren each want answers, but their searches quickly pit them against each other. One woman is a hired killer, but the other is a determined survivor. And both mothers will defend their families to the bitter end.
In this official authorized edition from the Queen of Mystery, the normally unflappable Hercule Poirot faces his most baffling investigation: the seemingly motiveless murder of the thirteenth guest at dinner party, who choked to death on a cocktail containing not a trace of poison.Sir Charles Cartwright should have known better than to allow thirteen guests to sit down for dinner. For at the end of the evening one of them is dead–choked by a cocktail that contained no trace of poison.Predictable, says Hercule Poirot, the great detective. But entirely unpredictable is that he can find absolutely no motive for murder….
A deadly secret lurks within our spice racks, medicine cabinets, backyard gardens, and private stashes.Scratch beneath the surface of a coffee bean, a red pepper flake, a poppy seed, a mold spore, a foxglove leaf, a magic-mushroom cap, a marijuana bud, or an apple seed, and we find a bevy of strange chemicals. We use these to greet our days (caffeine), titillate our tongues (capsaicin), recover from surgery (opioids), cure infections (penicillin), mend our hearts (digoxin), bend our minds (psilocybin), calm our nerves (CBD), and even kill our enemies (cyanide). But why do plants and fungi produce such chemicals? And how did we come to use and abuse some of them?
Based on cutting-edge science in the fields of evolution, chemistry, and neuroscience, Most Delicious Poison reveals:
- The origins of toxins produced by plants, mushrooms, microbes, and even some animals The mechanisms that animals evolved to overcome them How a co-evolutionary arms race made its way into the human experience And much more
What to Read Next
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.