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Sunday 11 January 2015

‘The Poisoner’ by Stephen Bates

Published by Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd,
June 2014.
ISBN: 978 0 7156 4750 9

The Poisoner is a non-fictional study of the life and death of Dr William Palmer. The book starts with a description of the scene just before Palmer's execution in Stafford in 1856, as vast crowds of people flock into the city to enjoy the spectacle of Palmer's death on the gallows. At this time, Palmer was thirty-one and, according to news reports of the time, nothing in his appearance indicated that he was a poisoner. As the Times reporter put it: 'one would expect to find in him more of the boon companion than the subtle adversary.' Palmer was convicted of poisoning his best friend but he was also suspected of the murder by strychnine of over a dozen people, most of them his closest family. His motive for these crimes was to gain their life-insurance to fund his gambling addiction.

Bates has written a masterly account of the mid-19th Century and of the life, trial and death of Palmer, including some clever historical detective work to fill in places where Palmer's story is unclear. He brings to life the Victorian world and scene and offers insights into the mind of one of the most notorious killers of the time. I found this book a very interesting read and would recommend it to anybody who is fascinated by historical crime.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Stephen Bates  has  been a journalist for 37 years and reported from more than 40 countries around the world, for the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and – for 22 of those years – for The Guardian. He is married with three grown-up children and I live in Kent, England. in an 18th Century listed town house, built circa 1730, overlooking an ancient church and its cemetery and right next door to a venerable pub, named after an 18th Century English admiral who dropped in there one day to drown his sorrows.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her second book About the Children was published in May 2014.

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