I am an avid reader of mysteries. No apologies. And I find I enjoy women writers more than male writers because I am often irritated by the usual male mystery writer’s lavish descriptions of fawning, willing and pulchritudinous women. Fantasy land. The acknowledged “grand dame” of mysteries is, of course, Agatha Christie. So it was with interest that I found out about a book called A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by British chemist Kathryn Harkup. Amazon reviewers give it 4.5+ stars. Each chapter features a specific poison beginning, of course, with arsenic and continuing on to veronal.
This is by way of introducing the topic of the latest meeting of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, an association of mystery writers and fans. The speaker was Steven Kaminski, CEO and executive director of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. We mystery writers find poisons of singular interest. For instance, the Poison Plant Lady, who describes the ordinary, innocent-looking but deadly plants found in homes and gardens, is an annual feature at the cozy mystery conference, Malice Domestic.
But I digress. After describing the distribution, staffing, and roles of the poison control center network, Kaminski got into the information we mystery writers would find of real interest.
The trending poisons for 2015 were opioids like codeine and OxyContin; the synthetic marijuana sold in colorful packets with no age requirements at gas stations, mini-marts, etc.; the concentrated liquid nicotine refills for e-cigarettes; and concentrated liquid laundry packets.
Then to give us a few more plot ideas, Kaminski described some of the unusual fatalities the centers have encountered like, for instance, the 19-year-old man who intentionally inhaled large quantities of helium gas. His roommate found him still hooked up to the helium tank.
Other examples included the suicide by Freon inhalation from air dusters; the death of a 58-year-old man who poured 55 gallons of liquid chlorine into heated water and died from the vapors; the child who swallowed a button battery or the one who drank pesticide stored in a refrigerated sports bottle; and the person poisoned from a hotel swimming pool heater with a faulty exhaust line that leaked into a hotel room.
Gruesome? Yes, but isn’t that one reason why we read mysteries?