While the title The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, it is the perfect description of the content of this nonfiction book.
I don't read a lot of nonfiction but when I do I like them a little edgy. Each chapter of this book tackles a specific poison from arsenic to carbon monoxide. The chapters cover the poison's history, its chemical properties, what exactly it does to the human body, and tells a few cases were the poison was used. It simultaneously describes the efforts of the newly formed forensic pathology office in New York and how these professionals pioneered countless advances in this field.
I really enjoyed this book. While decidedly episodic in nature, it seemed to work because of the over-arching theme of the lives of the medical examiners. I learned a lot reading this, especially about the politics of the Prohibition era. I would have liked to have seen photos from some of the cases described, especially when the author went into great detail about specific photos published in newspapers. Keeping in mind that the book occasionally goes into gory detail, I recommend this book to anyone interested in history, medicine, real crime, or just some of the more macabre parts of New York's past.