Take Ten: That Girl is Poison…

When we talk about female killers – especially serial killers – we almost inevitably talk about poison. Historically, poison is the preferred weapon for women, possibly because they have been the ones to prepare meals, making adding a little something to food or beverages convenient and quiet. And even women who are killing off fictional people – led by Grand Dame Agatha Christie – have become experts in death by poison. The books below offer a look at the slow, eerie ends of those who come into contact with all sorts of interesting toxins – and the women who are responsible for them…



A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie – Kathryn Harkup

  • Investigates the poisons Christie employs in fourteen of her mysteries, discussing why the poisons kill, how they interact, obtainability of such poisons, and which cases may have inspired Christie’s stories.

The Case of Madeleine Smith – Rick Geary

  • In comic book format, an upper-class woman and a man of lower standing engage in a scandalous secret affair in nineteenth-century Scotland, but the relationship comes to an end when the man is murdered by poison.

City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris – Holly Tucker

  • Draws on transcripts, letters and diaries to chronicle how an epidemic of murder in the late 1600s led to Nicolas de La Reynie’s appointment as Paris’s first police chief, the installation of lanterns that turned Paris into the City of Light and the investigations in the criminal underground that implicated Louis XIV’s mistress.

The Devil’s Rooming House: The True Story of America’s Deadliest Female Serial Killer – M. William Phelps

  • Profiles the owner of a rooming house in Windsor, Connecticut, who was accused of murdering two husbands and sixty-six sickly “inmates” between 1911 and her arrest 1916.

Did She Kill Him?: A Torrid Story of Adultery, Arsenic, and Murder in Victorian England* – Kate Colquhuon

  • Tells the story of a young Southern belle, her older British husband, and the addiction, deception and adultery that keeps readers asking to the very last page, “Did she kill him?”

Female Serial Killers* – Don Rauf

  • A look at the psychology of women who kill.

Lady Bluebeard: The True Story of Love and Marriage, Death and Flypaper* – William C. Anderson

  • The story of the investigation behind the conviction of Lyda Southard, Twin Falls’s resident female serial killer.

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York – Deborah Blum

  • Chronicles the story of New York City’s first forensic scientists to describe Jazz Age poisoning cases, including a family’s inexplicable balding, Barnum and Bailey’s Blue Man, and the crumbling bones of factory workers.

Trials of Passion: Crimes Committed in the Name of Love and Madness – Lisa Appignanensi*

  • An examination of three cases, including one focusing on Christiana Edmunds, who poisoned her lover’s wife and many others.

Women Who Kill – Ann Jones

  • A study of women murderers in America from precolonial times to the present reveals a social history of the United States in terms of the women who murdered and their crimes.


Annotations (except for starred items) are courtesy of NoveList Plus, which offers reading recommendations, reviews, and more.

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