Alumni Books

Poisonous Tales: A Forensic Examination of Poisons in Fiction

Dangerous, dark and difficult to detect, poisons have been a common character in literature from ancient times to the modern day. Their ability to perform deadly deeds at a distance is a common device for creating dramatic tension and playing on our real life fears. But what is fact and what is pure fiction?

From Shakespeare and Dickens to Hugo and Poe, the macabre world of literary poisonings is as large as it is fascinating. Utilising real forensic science Poisonous Tales explores the real science inspiring the toxins and tinctures in our favourite works. Could a poison really mimic death in Romeo and Juliet? What is the cause of the mad Hatter’s malady in Alice in Wonderland? And could a stone from the stomach of a goat really have been used as an antidote in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? Through these and many more ‘cases’ we discover the captivating truth in the texts and how real-life tragedies can replicate themselves in fiction.

(Dr Hilary Hamnett / Royal Society of Chemistry, 2023)

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