I had the privilege recently of attending a Crime Writers of Canada webinar called Plots, Plants and Poisons, led by Elaine Freedman. I enjoyed the webinar so much, I asked Elaine if she would share her resource list on the literary applications of poisons with my readers. She agreed (yea!) and her annotated list of books and websites follows. I’d like to stress that I’m posting this solely as a resource for writers who are or would like to write about poisons.
Elaine has been a fan of crime fiction since she started reading her grandmother’s Alfred Hitchcock magazines as a little girl. A freelance editor for more than thirty years, she especially enjoys editing crime fiction and has judged for both the Crime Writers of Canada Awards and the Bony Blithe Light Mystery Awards. She has delivered talks on poisonous plants and mushrooms to the Bloody Words mystery conference, the Bony Blithe mini-con, Sisters in Crime Toronto, and the Crime Writers of Canada. Elaine has been painting watercolors for more than ten years, and she recently used her paintings of poisonous flowers to produce the My Little Poison Garden greeting card collection (image and details below the list.)
Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines by Sarah Albee
Overview: actually a book for younger readers, but excellent history of poisoning with good notes on specific poisons. The book, “traces the role that poisons have played in history from antiquity to the present.”
Plants That Kill: A Natural History of the World’s Most Poisonous Plants by Elizabeth A. Dauncey and Sonny Larsson
Overview: one of the more technical books, ordered by body system affected, with good explanations and illustrations. Includes information on what can mitigate effects of poisons/save someone’s life.
A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup
Overview: excellent book on poisons used by Christie. “Each chapter takes a different novel and investigates the poison used by the murderer.”
Book of Poisons: A Guide for Writers by Serita Stevens and Anne Bannon
Overview: this is from the Writer’s Digest books Howdunnit series, and it’s the best resource for crime on poisoning. Includes toxicity ratings, effects, and time until symptoms or death. It’s an update to their earlier book Deadly Doses: A Writer’s Guide to Poisons.
Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities by Amy Stewart
Overview: “Drawing on history, medicine, science, and legend, this compendium of bloodcurdling botany will entertain, alarm, and enlighten even the most intrepid gardeners and nature lovers.” Good anecdotes and descriptions of effects.
Dangerous Garden : The Quest for Plants to Change our Lives by David Stuart
Overview: well-written with good historical references.
North American Guide to Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms by Nancy J. Turner and Patrick von Aderkas
Overview: an excellent field guide with photos, descriptions, occurrence, toxicity, and notes on wild plants and cultivars. Includes special appendices for honey and milk poisons, and medicinal herbs.
Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants (second edition) by Lewis S. Nelson, M.D., Richard D. Shih, M.D., and Michael J. Balick, Ph.D.
Overview: 2007 handbook by physicians and a botanist with excellent information on management of poisoning and how specific plants poison.
Do you think you’ll ever incorporate poisons into a story? Have you done so already? Any poisons in particular you’re curious about? Chat with me in the comments. If you’re interested in purchasing Elaine’s My Little Poison Garden greeting card collection (image below), you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.