by Neil Bradbury (HarperNorth £20, 304 pp)

Who hasn’t thought of poisoning someone? It’s something I do. One of my true enemies is dead and another one is quite old. The third is a man who has suffered many health problems over the years and is known for driving up the motorway at 120 MPH at night.

It is best to just wait and watch. However, there were times when I felt so deeply tempted.

Professor Neil Bradbury is a British-born, American-based academic specialising in physiology and biophysics, and what he doesn’t know about knocking people off with toxic chemicals is probably not worth knowing.

Professor Neil Bradbury examines the origin of various poisons and what to do if struck down with them in a new book (file image)

Neil Bradbury, Professor of Chemistry examines how poisons are created and the best ways to deal with them. (file image).

The book, which is quite beautiful, is basically a guide on how to get rid of your enemies. However, he makes it clear that most people will be caught.

The ‘undetectable’ poisons of early 20th century crime fiction don’t really exist any more. Many of these poisons can be identified and treated easily. Many of these are quite severe.

Bradbury’s book is subtitled ‘Eleven Deadly Substances And The Killers Who Used Them’. Each chapter focuses on a specific poison. It discusses the origins of that poison. We also hear a few stories about criminals who employed it. A biochemical analysis is done to determine how these substances work within our bodies. And then we learn what to do in case we get sick. He also provides some interesting facts along the way.

The word ‘poison’ has been in the English language since 1200, meaning ‘a deadly potion or substance’.

There are four ways to deliver poison to victims: Ingestion (eating, drinking or inhaling it), breathing it (breathing it), absorption (1 on the skin), and injection (2 with a syringe) or a modified umbrella (on Waterloo Bridge).

A number of criminal cases have determined that the three most poisonous substances are arsenic (2. cyanide) and strychnine (3. strychnine). Numerous poisons can be medically beneficial and even benign in smaller amounts. If administered in large doses or different amounts, many drugs are lethal.

Sir John Mortimer is the best barrister, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey and the greatest storyteller.

‘As a rule,’ he said, ‘women are the great poisoners, although I do recall with pleasure the case of the gentleman solicitor who poisoned everyone in sight. He couldn’t stop himself. He was very gentle. The most memorable line of true murder was the one he came up with.

‘As he handed one of his guests a poisoned scone, he said, “Excuse fingers.”’

Professor Neil Bradbury said poison can be delivered to a victim by four routes: Ingestion, respiration, absorption and injection (file image)

Professor Neil Bradbury claimed that poison can travel through four ways to victims: ingestion, breathing, absorption, injection and injection. (file picture)

For diabetes treatment, insulin is an essential drug. It was discovered in animal pancreases and first isolated by Canadian scientists in 1921. Kenneth Barlow, an ex-male nurse, used it ingeniously to murder his wife Elizabeth. Elizabeth had drowned after being injected with large amounts of insulin.

The doctor knew something was up because her pupils were hugely dilated, which doesn’t happen to drowning victims. As an experiment therapy, insulin was administered to some Austrian schizophrenics a few years before. The sweating became so intense that the patients needed to be bathed several times to get rid of it.

Following this, patients began to become restless. The patients were put in a coma. At that point, their pupils became dilated. All these symptoms had been on display during Mrs Barlow’s last agonising hours.

The Home Office’s forensic pathologist was convinced that Elizabeth had been injected with insulin to make her comatose before she was pushed underwater. His team examined the entire body with magnifying glass and searched for needle marks. They found two of them in each buttock.

The jury took 85 minutes to find Kenneth Barlow guilty, and the judge, sentencing him to life, described Barlow as ‘a cold, cruel premeditated murderer who, but for a high degree of detective ability, would not have been found out’.

A TASTE FOR POISON by Neil Bradbury (HarperNorth £20, 304 pp)

A TASTE FOR POISON by Neil Bradbury (HarperNorth £20, 304 pp)

Barlow, who had been held in prison 26 years and was 65, was released on November 14, 1984. He still claims his innocence. And that’s just the first chapter!

Atropine, another horrible little pestger was created from nightshade berries. Venetian courtesans would inject a small amount of the drug into their eyes, to increase their attractiveness and dilate their pupils. However, long-term use can cause blindness.

Paul Agutter, a biochemist tried to kill his wife Alexandra in 1995 with tonic water laced with atropine. To cover his tracks, he had added poison to several tonic water bottles that he placed in an Edinburgh supermarket. To make everyone ill, but not kill, he had added enough of atropine into each bottle. Then he made sure to add more to the last one for his wife.

As Bradbury puts it, ‘There are two key elements to committing the perfect murder: the intended victim should die; but the murderer should also escape arrest, conviction and imprisonment.’ Unfortunately for Paul Agutter, neither of these events took place. When Paul added gin to the laced tonic water and gave it to his wife, she sipped it but felt it didn’t taste right.

She could have died from a single glass of Gin-and-Atropine, but the tiny amount she consumed was enough to cause all symptoms of atropine poisoning. She felt dizzy and her mouth became dry. Her heart raced, her pulse accelerated, and she fell to the ground. ‘At that point the hallucinations began, with Alexandra later recalling that everything looked as though it was made of gossamer silk.’

Paul didn’t call an ambulance. Instead, he called his family doctor who was absent that night. However, an on-call doctor picked up his panicked message and called the ambulance dispatcher. A student from his school, who worked at the supermarket as a clerk, testified at his trial that he saw Agutter placing the tonic-laced bottles on the shelves. Alexandra survived through the skin of her teeth, and Agutter was sentenced to 12 years.

Bradbury’s book, a winning mixture of hard science and true crime stories, is almost indecently entertaining. Strychnine comes from the vomit tree, as you may be curious to know. There’s also a great story about killer horseradish. It’s all thoroughly recommended.