This fascinating book looks at the phenomenon of murder and poisoning in the nineteenth century. Focusing on the case of William Palmer, a medical doctor who in 1856 was convicted of murder by poisoning, it examines how his case baffled toxicologists, doctors, detectives and judges. The investigation commences with an overview of the practice of toxicology in the Victorian era, and goes on to explore the demands imposed by legal testimony on scientific work to convict criminals. In addressing Palmer's trial, Burney focuses on the testimony of Alfred Swaine Taylor, a leading expert on poisons, and integrates the medical, legal and literary evidence to make sense of the trial itself and the sinister place of poison in wider Victorian society.
Ian Burney has produced an exemplary work of cultural history, mixing a keen understanding of the contemporary social and cultural landscape with the scientific and medical history of the period.