Synopses & Reviews
In the first half of the nineteenth century, an epidemic swept Europe: arsenic poisoning. Available at any corner shop, arsenic was so frequently used by potential beneficiaries of wills that it was nicknamed “the inheritor’s powder.” But it was difficult to prove that a victim had been poisoned, let alone to identify the food or drink that had been contaminated. Then came a riveting case. In 1833, George Bodle, a wealthy landowner from outside London, died after drinking his morning coffee. The investigation, which gained international attention, brought together a colorful cast of characters: a doctor who turned detective; a drunken, bumbling policeman; and James Marsh, an unknown but brilliant chemist who, assigned the Bodle case, attempted to create a test that could pinpoint the presence of arsenic. The Inheritor’s Powder brings together a gripping story, a fascinating slice of history, and an unforgettable foray into the origins of forensic science.
"Hempel skillfully weaves whodunit and courtroom drama to take us back to the beginnings of the controversial science of forensic toxicology." Hugh Aldersey-Williams, author of Periodic Tales and Anatomies
"Sandra Hempel's fascinating book is a story of one of history's most important poisons--and most important murders. And the latter is true because this murder and the resulting trial--beautifully explained here--changed the course of criminal detection. It's essential reading for anyone interested in the history of forensic science--and in the way we catch our killers." Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz-Age New York
"Readers of Sandra Hempel's un-put-downable true crime narrative will not only find themselves caught up in a grippingly suspenseful murder mystery; they will be treated to a string of brilliantly delivered lessons on everything from the origins of toxicological science to pre-Victorian medical practices to the beginnings of modern forensic detection. I can't think of another recent work that so thrillingly fulfills the two major aims of literary art: to delight and instruct." Harold Schechter, author of The Devil's Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial that Ushered in the Twentieth Century
"Sandra Hempel has brilliantly researched a famous arsenic poisoning of 1833. not only tells the story of Bodle's murder and the trial of his grandson, with its surprise ending, but it does so in a way that sets it in the context of a time when society was undergoing profound changes, not least in dealing with the type of crime that for centuries had been virtually impossible to prove. This fascinating book could well be the next ." John Emsley, author of The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison
"Hempel weaves a diabolical tale of fractured families, their poisonous deeds, and the early scientists who found new ways to expose history's oldest crime. Told with verve and a keen eye for suspense, is a great detective story all the way to the very last page." Holly Tucker, author of Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution
"This book will appeal to readers interested in the origins of forensic science as well as to readers of popular histories of science. Though nonfiction, it will likely appeal to mystery readers as well, with its vivid details, cast of potential poisoners, and curious twists in plot." Library Journal, starred review
"Hempel's fascinating look at how the science of poison detection developed is certain to draw in readers with its masterful combination of telling details, engrossing prose, and drama... The Bodle case reads like something out of Dickens, and those fascinated by modern shows like CSI will delight in learning about the field's early days." Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
An infamous murder investigation that changed forever the way poisoners were brought to justice.
About the Author
Sandra Hempel is a medical journalist whose work has appeared in the Times, the Sunday Times, and the Guardian. The author of The Inheritor's Powder and the award-winning The Strange Case of the Broad Street Pump, she lives in London.