Most helpful critical review
It'll make your flesh creep.
on 2 September 2013
If you like reading about 'orrible murder and agonising death this is the book for you. Whorton weaves a highly entertaining narrative of husband poisoners, careless and ignorant industrialists, bickering and ignorant doctors and crooked racehorse trainers, to mention just some of the fascinating facts gathered in this book.
There's just one thing wrong. And that's the facts. Whorton writes a lot about the dangers of Victorian wallpaper, repeatedly emphasising the dangers of Scheele's green in the make-up of the paper. However, Cullen and Bentley killed this story (in 2005, well before publication of this book) in "The toxicity of trimethylarsine, an urban myth". Available for free here: [...]
This makes me a bit doubtful about the other facts in this book. Arsenic in small doses (it depends on which compound) is fairly harmless, and may even be essential as a trace element. So the chronic exposure suffered by many Victorians may not have been as bad as the author says, indeed the illnesses reported might have had a quite different cause.
Nevertheless, a good read, and the author has a droll style. I particularly liked the story of the poisoner who got off in court. The prosecution wanted to get him, so they charged him with bigamy instead. The defence showed that he wasn't a bigamist as his first wife was a bigamist so the first marriage was invalid. Ah, said the prosecution, but the first wife's first husband was also a bigamist, so her first marriage was invalid so her second was valid and so the accused was a bigamist after all. Life was so complicated before the divorce laws, eh?