My book, The Poisoner’s Handbook, came out in paperback this week. My publisher kept the beautiful cover – my all time favorite – with the test-tube glowing like a moon over 1920s New York City and the title printed on an old-time poison label.
When I look at it I see an amazing year since hardback publication. I spent most of it traveling around the country – and sometimes outside it – talking about poison, murder and a pair of crusading scientists determined to change the world. I remember the hours I’ve spent answering letters and e-mail from readers, some of whom wanted me to solve their family murders. A lawyer from Kentucky called to describe the way his step-mother had killed his father with backyard weeds. He’d decided to have the body exhumed. “I know my sister-in-law poisoned my brother,” wrote one man. “I saved a few hairs from his head before she had him cremated. What should I have them tested for?”
My publisher sent me on a ten-city book tour with a strong advance warning: do not tell people how to kill each other. And I didn’t. But they asked. “I’m belong to the Hemlock Society,” one woman said. “And I’m just wondering if there’s any special compound you might recommend for a peaceful death.” Sometimes these questions can be a little scary. But so, apparently, can I. At a neighborhood party for the book, people on my block reassured my husband that they were there for him, just in case.
He’s still safely drinking coffee, in case you wondered, although for some reason he’s quit drinking it with me. He just didn’t expect, when we got married, to find himself living with a woman whose personal library is packed with books on lethal substances. “I found some really good ingredients for an excellent poison at the grocery store,” I reported one day. “Is that so?” he replied, taking himself and his cup elsewhere.
I started a blog – this blog, in fact, and I thought it would be a great place to tell those wonderful, troubling stories of poisons, of our chemical past. And I did that. But I found myself as often writing of our chemical present, of lead poisoning, of modern murder, of carbon monoxide, as murderous today as it was in the 1920s. I was reminded often of how much I love chemistry – that fundamental, beautiful and sometimes sinister science. And I’ve learned more about it in this year of trying to illuminate the chemical web that weyett navigate every day.
It’s been an exhausting, exciting and, yes, educational year leading up to this paperback. And in honor of it, I’d like to propose an exchange with you, the readers of this blog. Send me your ideas for a Speakeasy Science blog post – a poison, a murder, a compound, a dangerous plant, a corner of our chemical world that needs investigation. Just send them in as a comment.
I’ll pick my favorites – up to ten – and the winners will receive a copy of the paperback from me. I’ll contact you directly if you’ve won and arrange to send you a copy. True, you can buy it yourself for a great price. But I hope you’ll like the idea of having your interesting ideas explored here. And, don’t forget, all winner’s copies will be autographed by the author herself!
I’ll be accepting ideas in the comment section for a full week. You are welcome to suggest more than one idea, of course. Hoping to hear from many of you in this celebration of The Poisoner’s Handbook paperback!