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The Inheritor's Powder: A Tale of Arsenic,…

The Inheritor's Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic… (2013)

by Sandra Hempel

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"To this day I cannot look without a shudder at the big square house in Plumstead village"
By sally tarbox on 10 May 2017
Format: Audible Audio Edition
This true-life crime story is well-researched and an interesting read.
In 1833 Plumstead (London) , George Bodle - and some of his household - were stricken with violent symptoms after partaking of coffee. Evidence pointed to poison, but who was to blame: a disgruntled servant? George's feckless grandson? Or his son - largely and inexplicably cut out of the Will, and seemingly eager to put the blame on his son. What about George's beloved son-in-law, who stood to inherit the lion's share?
The author takes us through the trial and also through the infancy of toxicology, as various scientists attempted - with varying degrees of success - to test definitively for arsenic.
An intriguing story, though I felt Ms Hempel digressed rather a lot, bringing in every random piece of information she had uncovered ( )
  starbox | May 9, 2017 |
For centuries arsenic had been used for medicinal and pest control issues. In the early 1800's arsenic was quite readily available for purchase and because it was odorless and mixed easily with food and drink, it became the poison of choice for those who wished to do away with those rich relatives who just wouldn't die quickly enough. The 1833 case of George Bodle, a weathly landowner in Plumstead, England, brought the issue of detecting arsenic poisoning to the foreground. The entire Bodle household, including the servants, became suddenly ill after breakfast one November morning. Everyone, except patriarch George, recovered and George's grandson, John, stood accused of murder. The local doctor requested the help of James Marsh, a chemist who had been devising a test for arsenic poisoning. The Bodle case lingered long in the court system due to mismanagement of evidence, arguments over who was going to pay for the trial, and generally laughable police work as the local constable visits several pubs on his way to the police station with the accused murderer in tow. This murder trial is the main focus but many other arsenic deaths are mentioned as well as the quest for a definitive test for the poison.

Hempel has obviously done a great deal of research into her subject matter and the Bodle case itself reads like an interesting Victorian mystery. I did find the book was difficult to follow at times for there were so many people to try to keep straight. For the most part I enjoyed the book.
( )
  Ellen_R | Jan 15, 2016 |
Apparently the author considered the story too long for a magazine article and too short for a book. Unfortunately she chose to add filler, lots of filler, to make it up to 250 pages. There are about 150 good pages in there, but Hempel needed a tough editor to force her to cut away the dross. I couldn't make it through numerous accounts of arsenical poisoning completely unrelated to her storyline. It's tempting to include every fact one has uncovered through exhaustive research, but more engaging writers pick and choose in order to build a narrative. If you skip the last three chapters, you will have made a substantial down payment on trimming the book down to its optimal size. ( )
1 vote greenquark | Jan 5, 2014 |
Using the death of prosperous farmer George Bodle as her jumping-off point, Sandra Hempel explores the use of arsenic as a murder weapon in 19th-century England. Multiple cases are examined, some in more detail than others, and Hempel examines how these led to the development of better and more sophisticated techniques for actually detecting the presence of arsenic.

A big digressive at times as Hempel veers off on tangents, but overall an engaging read on the topic. One of the most interesting elements is her coverage of poisoning as portrayed in popular fiction of the time, including Bulwer-Lytton's Lucretia. ( )
  JBD1 | Nov 24, 2013 |
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To Georgia and Sophie, the Nibbs ladies, with all my love
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On 17 December 1846, Saunders and Otley of Conduit Street, London, announced the publication of Lucretia, or the Children of the Night, a novel in three volumes.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393239713, Hardcover)

An infamous murder investigation that changed forever the way poisoners were brought to justice.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, an epidemic swept Europe: arsenic poisoning. Available at any corner shop for a few pence, 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 contaminated food or drink since arsenic was tasteless.

Then came a riveting case. On the morning of Saturday, November 2, 1833, the Bodle household sat down to their morning breakfast. That evening, the local doctor John Butler received an urgent summons: the family and their servants had collapsed and were seriously ill. Three days later, after lingering in agony, wealthy George Bodle died in his bed at his farmhouse in Plumstead, leaving behind several heirs, including a son and grandson—both of whom were not on the best of terms with the family patriarch.

The investigation, which gained international attention, brought together a colorful cast of characters: bickering relatives; a drunken, bumbling policeman; and James Marsh, an unknown but brilliant chemist who, assigned the Bodle case, attempted to create a test that could accurately pinpoint the presence of arsenic. In doing so, however, he would cause as many problems as he solved. Were innocent men and women now going to the gallows? And would George Bodle’s killer be found?

Incisive and wryly entertaining, science writer Sandra Hempel brings to life a gripping story of domestic infighting, wayward police behavior, a slice of Victorian history, stories of poisonings, and an unforgettable foray into the origins of forensic science.

6 illustrations

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:49 -0400)

Explores how an infamous murder case led to the birth of modern toxicology.

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