The Inheritor's Powder: A Tale of Arsenic Murder and the New Forensic Science - Very informative...but not a book to read in public!

The Inheritor's Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science - Sandra Hempel

When I saw this on my library's new Non-Fiction shelves, I simply had to pick it up. Apparently they'd picked it up in December of last year, but events lead me to seek out their new offerings last month. The whole of the non-fiction section of my library is blocked off while undergoing renovation...with only their latest acquisitions available on another floor. While this has lead me to add several books to my list, it has made the actual looking for books long on my list basically impossible. Oh, well. May it go quickly.

 

Would it freak you out for me to say I've always been fascinated by poisons? That I'm completely against murder goes without saying but ever since reading Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie as a young girl, the act of poisoning and how the police discover its use is something I've always wanted to learn more about. So when I saw this book and realized that it dealt with those in an historical context? I had no problem checking it out.

 

This book gives a good look at poisons - particularly arsenic - as well as gives an introduction to the history of forensic science and European (mostly British with some French) society's feelings and issues with this during the early to mid-1800s. There are some parts where the descriptions of what medically is taking place can be a bit much. Don't read this if you have a low gross-out factor (I do but I gutted my way through it and there aren't terribly many - you simply can't be sure when they are going to turn up). The writing style makes this extremely easy to read and once I turned my focus solely on it, I finished it quite quickly. The text swings (mostly) back and forth between a recounting of a particular poisoning and a look at different facets of the study of poison, the justice system, and more. The build up of information allowed for better understanding of the case and others as the book progressed. While this would be less then ideal for someone look for knowledge, as an introduction, it worked quite well as the reader learns as they go along. As I said, introduction versus a source. Some of the best parts, for me, were the looks at the literature of the day as well as what the papers were saying. The looks at society's thoughts on the poisoning cases were very interesting.

 

There are not footnotes, though there are end-notes with sources and an index. That was one of my issues with this; also a few illustrations of the devices for finding the poisons during an investigation would not have gone amiss. Despite decent descriptions, I never really got what they were doing or how it entirely worked.

 

In short, while I liked this book (though it was sometime difficult to take) it is not for everyone. Also the reader should go in with the understanding that this works as an introduction; more in depth knowledge is better found elsewhere. I've already got some names from the back of the book for further reading.