I used poison as a murder weapon in Fallen From Grace and have utilized it again in Sooner Than Gold.
Poison has a long and respected place in the history of crime fiction. Agatha Christie employed poison in her first novel, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles,” and it was her weapon of choice in some 60 other fictions. Dorothy Sayers was equally fond of poison as a means of dispatch, as was John Carter Dickson, master of the locked room mystery, and even Arthur Conan Doyle.
Thinking of Lucrezia Borgia and some other early examples, some might consider poison as more suited to women as a weapon. In fact, an equal number of male murderers have turned to poison in preference to the gun or other weapons. For example, Thomas Neill Cream, Frederick Seddon and William Palmer, who some believe to have been Christie’s inspiration for that first novel.
The writers mentioned above (and many of the actual murderers) leaned toward chemical poisons, such as arsenic, strychnine and cyanide. I utilized arsenic in Fallen From Grace, since it was so readily available to our ancestors.
There’s nothing wrong in utilizing these time-honored tinctures, though one must be careful and provide the assassin with adequate medical knowledge. Some critics have challenged Christie on the qualification of the conspirator in that first and famous novel.
In Sooner Than Gold I decided to take a more natural turn. The Tilghman stories are set in an agricultural/mining community in the 19th century. Our rural ancestors were more inclined to forage in field and forests and many were familiar with a variety of plants with uses both benign and deadly. Since the cast of characters includes gypsies who have an even more extensive knowledge of such things, this particular plant seemed a perfect choice.
Growing up in a similar environment and fond of roaming the forest in my youth, I’ve long been fascinated by the many uses of plants most regard as mere weeds. This provides a fertile field for utilization in my stories and I’ve made frequent use of natural poisons over the years.
I’m sure this will not be the last time I dispose of a character by means of poison.