Friday, January 25, 2013

From a Crime Writer’s Library—Criminal Poisoning: Investigational Guide Enforcement, Toxicologists, Forensic Scientists, and Attorneys

Not long ago, I shared one of the best books on poisons that writers can use to write about poisoning. Today, I am sharing my number two resource: Criminal Poisoning: Investigational Guide Enforcement, Toxicologists, Forensic Scientists, and Attorneys by John Harris Trestrial, III, RPh, FAACT, DABAT.  While the second edition was published in 2007 by Humana Press. You should be able to find it online or (hopefully for a cheaper price) at a used book store (or even at your friendly neighborhood library (or college/university library))

With an easy to understand writing style, cartoons and graphs, and poetry (yes—poetry), John Trestrail takes the reader through the types of  poisons, how a crime scene(s) should be handled and what to look for in an autopsy.  One of the best chapters for planning any crime story (mystery) is Chapter 10. He breaks down the method of investigation by using victimology as the starting point, just as the Special Agents with the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit (commonly incorrectly named by “Hollywood” as profilers).  Before I discuss the chapters in this book, let me quickly outline the method that Trestrial uses in Chapter 10. (also see my previous posts on the Writers’ Lens: The Murder’s Ladder ( ) and The Fluid or Unstatic Theory of Plots (  Sadly, for me, Trestrial does this in a more visual and effective method.

1. Who?
                A. Study the victim
    B. How + Why = Who
                C. Was the victim random or targeted?

2. What?
                A. Since this is a book on poisoning: Was the poison solid, liquid, or gas?
                B. How was the poison absorbed?
3. Where?
                A. With a poisoning (as with a shooting and a few other methods of homicide), there may be multiple crime scenes.
                B. With a poisoning, there may be crime scenes for:
                                1.The scene of procurement of the poison;
                                2. The scene where the poison is prepared;
                                3. The scene where the poison is administered;
                                4. The scene where the evidence is disposed;
                                5. The scene where the victim dies.
4. When?
                A. Poisons take time to work, even the fast acting ones.
                B. How to detect:
                                1. If fast acting: Blood, Urine, Gastric content
                                2. If slow acting: same as 1, but add hair.
5. Why?
                A. What did the victim stand in the way of?
                B. Why did the victim become the victim—Why them, at that moment.
6. How?
                A. How was the poison administered?
7.Put the clues together.
8. (And this is the scary part, even for me) If the investigators don’t consider poison in the first place, it will never be detected.

If you think reading the above quick outline is enough, you have sadly undersold yourself and your audience (regardless if you are a crime fiction writer or happen to have a poisoning in any other genre.).  Criminal Poisoning  is broken down into 10 chapters, with appendix that cover:
Chapter 1: Poisoners Throughout History
Chapter 2: Types of Poisons
Chapter 3: Poisoners
Chapter 4: Victims
Chapter 5: Crime Scene Investigation
Chapter 6: The Forensic Autopsy
Chapter 7: Proving Poisoning
Chapter 8: Poisoners in Court
Chapter 9: Poisoners in Fiction
Chapter 10: Conclusion
                Some Common Homicidal Poisons
                Bibliographies on Homicidal Poisoning

If any story you write has poison involved (even if it is some kind of made up poison on some distant world), you will want to have this book as a reference.

Do you have a reference book you like to use for your crime research?  Don’t be shy. Please share the title, author and why in the comments.  I will take a look at it and I may include it in a future From a Crime Writer’s Library post.

Thank you for reading and please visit and You can also follow me on twitter @Owlkenpowriter and the Writer’s Lens @TheWritersLens. Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses

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