Never trust a big nurse and a smile

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It’s not so easy to get away with poisoning someone in 2016. Modern medicine can typically detect any poisons that can be obtained by the average human. Additionally, we’re not so blinded by antiquated ideas of femininity that we’d fail to consider the possibility that a mother could poison her children or a nurse the patients in her charge. However, as Harold Schechter illustrates in Fatal, it was almost too easy for a woman in the late 19th century to get away with murdering those under her care.

The focus of Schechter’s book is Jane Toppan, a nurse who murdered as many as 31 of her patients using a combination of morphia and atropia. By her own admission, Jane committed these murders for the sexual thrill she got when she would climb into bed with her patients and feel the life slip away from them. Schechter prefaces his story by telling the stories of other female poisoners who murdered those around them with arsenic, which was a commonly used household product at the time. This illustrates how truly inept modern medicine was at the time. In multiple instances, entire families are wiped out and no one suspects it is anything more than terrible misfortune.

Jane Toppan and her contemporary female poisoners were not like male serial killers who killed random strangers. The late 19th century female poisoner made victims of their husbands, children and dear friends who trusted the person attending their bedside. Fatal is a great addition to the true crime genre that offers a less than picturesque view of the U.S. in the later half of the 1800s.

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The WomanGirl on the Cabin 10 Train

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I picked up this book on a recommendation from one of the Book Riot podcasts that said it was a great closed door mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie. While it certainly was a closed door mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie, I’d probably only call it fair to good rather than great. The premise is great and there are some moments of real tension and suspense. But I found the execution somewhat lacking and I saw the “twist” coming pretty early on.

The story follows Laura “Lo” Blacklock, a travel reporter who is trying to rebuild her career after a serious bout of clinical depression nearly got her fired. She’s given a chance to report on the maiden voyage of an exclusive high end cruise ship. The first night of the voyage, Lo believes she hears the woman next door in the titular Cabin 10 being murdered and thrown overboard only to discover, when she calls ship security, that no one is staying next door. Like most protagonists in mystery novels, Lo is unable to let go of the problem and continues to search for clues. She is hampered by the fact that she drank to much the night of the alleged murder and by a home invasion that occurred shortly before the voyage started making her an unreliable witness in the eyes of the ship’s security officer.

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It was fine. It was a perfectly good mystery story. I really don’t think it deserved the hype it got. Like I said above; it’s good but certainly not great.